The 29-year-old startup founder who accused a 73-year-old Silicon Valley investor of sexually assaulting her on a red-eye flight says ‘multiple’ other women reached out with similar claims

Lucio Lanza, founder of Lanza Tech Ventures YouTube
  • In February, 29-year-old Danae Vachata filed a lawsuit against Silicon Valley venture capitalist Lucio Lanza alleging he sexually assaulted her on a red-eye flight in July.
  • Now, Vachata and her attorney say that multiple women, who remain unnamed, have come forward alleging similar sexual misconduct – including assault – by Lanza.
  • Vachata is speaking publicly about her experience to try to change the culture of the tech industry, which she views as being sexually exploitative.
  • Lanza has denied Vachata’s original allegation.

Danae Vachata says she’s not alone in receiving unwanted sexual advances from venture capitalist Lucio Lanza.

Lanza sexually assaulted other women in ways similar to her own experience with the investor, Vachata alleged in an amended version of the lawsuit she filed against him Thursday. The incidents date back more than a decade, she said in the suit, and include sexual misconduct claims.

“Lanza has a long history of groping and fondling multiple women against their will and boasting about his power to make or break careers in Silicon Valley,” Vachata charged in the amended suit. “The assault … is just the latest example of Lanza’s predatory behaviour.”

According to her original complaint, Lanza, who appeared to be drunk, told Vachata that he had the power to “make or break” her career before putting his hand between her thighs and attempting to kiss her.

Lanza, 73, has previously denied Vachata’s allegation. In a statement to Business Insider, Lanza’s attorney called Vachata’s amended complaint “as sensationalist and meritless as the original.” “Neither complaint has even been served on Mr. Lanza, but instead has been presented to the media to smear his name,” he continued. “We will defend Mr. Lanza vigorously.”

Vachata’s attorney, David Lowe, said that multiple unnamed women reached out to him and Vachata after she filed her original suit in February and made public her allegations against Lanza. The amended suit offered few details about the exact number of other women with allegations against Lanza, or the specifics of their claims, but Lowe said they were “significant.”

“These people all come from different time periods dating as far back as 2003,” Lowe said. “What this suggests is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Lanza stands accused of exploiting his power in a different way than other alleged harassers

The new sexual misconduct allegations against Lanza indicate that what Vachata allegedly experienced wasn’t unique, Lowe said. The other women who have come forward say that Lanza, the founder and managing director of the venture capital firm Lanza Tech Ventures and a leading authority in the semiconductor industry for more than thirty years, also bragged that he could “make or break” their careers, according to Lowe.

“These allegations are significant because his actions are no longer something that can be brushed off as an isolated drunken episode. Now it’s a question of intent,” Lowe said.

Lowe’s firm has handled numerous sexual misconduct cases. He said that what stands out about Vachata’s allegations, and those of the other women who have now come forward, is how Lanza allegedly attempted to exploit his power over them explicitly.

“There’s a common theme in sexual harassment cases in which men use their power to exploit women sexually,” Lowe said. “But that exploitation is usually only based on an implicit understanding, whereas, in Ms. Vachata’s complaint, Lanza expressed the power he had over her both explicitly and verbally.”

According to Vachata’s original complaint, Lanza struck up a conversation with her when she was seated beside him on a red-eye flight. When Lanza discovered that Vachata was the cofounder of the medical surgical startup Mallium, he expressed interest in investing in her company and flouted his Silicon Valley connections before he allegedly proceeded to assault her, according to the lawsuit.

R. Danae Vachata
R. Danae Vachata, cofounder and CEO Mallium Linkedin/R. Danae Vachata

“He was very sure of himself, as though he had done this multiple times before”

Lanza acted with complete confidence in his power over her, Vachata told Business Insider in a phone conversation.

“He acted like he was untouchable,” Vachata said. “He was very sure of himself, as though he had done this multiple times before.”

Not only did Lanza’s alleged sexual advance frighten Vachata, she says, but so too did his powerful connections.

“It scared me,” she said. “I felt that I needed to comply. When you think about the fact that I don’t have money, and this man is so sure of himself, telling me that he has the power to control my career.”

The tech industry is a notoriously close-knit community in which a handful of influential people have the capacity to either advance or permanently damage the professional opportunities of entrepreneurs, Vachata said.

“You don’t want to be a troublemaker because no one will want to work with you,” she said. “There’s a fear of being blacklisted. You hear it time and time again.”

Vachata hopes her lawsuit will help change the industry

Vachata said that Lanza’s actions against her are an extreme expression of the sexist attitudes Vachata has encountered within the tech industry in the past. Rather than an isolated incident, Vachata describes the alleged assault as being largely indicative of the tech industry’s attitude towards women.

“This isn’t the story of a drunk man assaulting me,” she said. “This is the story of a drunk VC saying I have power over you and I have right to do what I want with your body.”

Through her suit against Lanza and by speaking publicly about her experiences, the 29-year-old is hoping to bring such attitudes to light – and change them.

“As this case has been made public, I’ve had so many people reach out to me and say, ‘This has happened to me too, and I’m afraid that if I come forward, my career will be ruined forever,'” she said.