- A female startup founder has sued a Silicon Valley VC, alleging that he sexually assaulted her during a red-eye flight in July.
- The defendant, Lucio Lanza, denies the allegations.
- The lawsuit represents the latest in a series of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations that have rocked the business world, and Silicon Valley, over the past year.
Danae Vachata, the 29-year-old cofounder of a medical surgical startup Mallium has filed a lawsuit against longtime Silicon Valley venture capital investor Lucio Lanza, alleging that he sexually assaulted her on an aeroplane.
The incident occurred on a red eye flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis in July, according to the complaint. Lanza, the 73-year-old Managing Director of Lanza Tech Ventures, acknowledges talking to Vachata on the flight, but denies that anything else occured.
According to the complaint, Vachata took her seat after boarding the plane, opened her laptop and sent a quick email. Lanza was sitting next to her, the complaint says, saw the work email and started a conversation, asking about her company. She viewed it as small talk. It turned out he was in the wrong seat and was asked to move, which he did but then, he kept coming back to the aisle to talk to Vachata, tell her about his investments and connections in the tech industry. At one point, she claims, he brought with him an alcoholic drink and gave it to her.
The person sitting in the seat next to Vachata, one of the airline’s off-duty pilots, offered to switch seats with Lanza so that the two could continue the conversation. Vachata said that Lanza appeared to be drunk, smelling of alcohol and slurring his words. Once he was sitting next to her, she claims he started grabbing her arm, and then grabbed her breast, tried to kiss her, and, the complaint alleges he even put his hand between her thighs and tried to grab her crotch.
During the alleged incident, Lanza also threatened her, she charges in the complaint, by talking about his power in the industry and about how he could “make or break” her career.
A spokesperson for Lanza told Buiness Insider: “Lucio has no idea of what he is being accused of. As far as he remembers, he was on a plane talking with this woman about her startup.”
At the gate of her next flight, she asked the airline not to seat her next to a male passenger and was refused. She told the airline of the alleged incident and was told to report it, which she did. The complaint says the airline also told her that Lanza was a “platinum member” with the airline and that may have explained why he had access to an abundance of alcohol.
The complaint says that Vachata suffered an anxiety attack on board her next flight, which caused her to briefly pass out. She was escorted to emergency facilities on landing, where she also reported the alleged incident with Lanza. And the attack was also reported to law enforcement.
She’s suing Lanza for emotional distress, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Lanza is known for his career as a VC, previously at U.S. Venture Partners and as the former CEO of EDA Systems back in the 1980s.