Ex-colour Employee Files An Explosive Lawsuit That Trashes Founder Bill Nguyen

Adam Witherspoon, colour LabsAdam Witherspoon

Photo: LinkedIn

Adam Witherspoon, a former employee of colour Labs, the highly funded photo-sharing startup which imploded earlier this year, is suing the company and founder Bill Nguyen for a host of charges ranging from inflicting emotional distress to interfering with Witherspoon’s pursuit of a new job at Apple.In making those charges, Witherspoon’s lawyers also seem to confirm the fate of colour: Apple hired its team of approximately 20 technical employees, save for Witherspoon, according to the complaint they filed today in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

It’s not clear what Apple paid colour, if anything, in the deal as described by Witherspoon.

Witherspoon’s LinkedIn profile describes him as an “IT guy” involved primarily in desktop support. Apple’s widely believed to have been interested in colour’s software engineers. However, it’s not clear if Apple would have hired Witherspoon, a point the complaint does not address.

According to the complaint, Nguyen and Witherspoon’s families grew close, then fell out after their sons started not getting along. (Nguyen, who had met Witherspoon in Hawaii, hired Witherspoon and his wife, Jessica Jordan, to work at colour in 2010.)

There are some stomach-churning allegations about how Nguyen treated children. These are verbatim from the lawsuit:

  • “Nguyen threatened violence against Witherspoon’s young son on several occasions.”
  • “One early morning, Jordan walked into the room where their children were staying and witnessed Nguyen kicking Nguyen’s older son in the stomach. Plaintiff Witherspoon believed that Nguyen’s corporal punishment of his own son in front of others was meant as a show of force to intimidate Witherspoon’s son, because Defendant Nguyen later explained that he had punished his older son for the Witherspoon son and the older Nguyen son allegedly having excluding the younger Nguyen son from play.”
  • “In or around September 2011, the Nguyens invited the Witherspoons and [CFO Alyssa] Solomon to dinner. Solomon’s children repeatedly reported the older Nguyen son’s misbehavior. Jordan and Solomon both witnessed Defendant Nguyen grab his son by the skin of the back of his neck and throw him down the hall. Jordan told Solomon within earshot of the Nguyens that Solomon should stop her children from reporting the older Nguyen son’s behaviour, or that their children would be in severe trouble.”

Nguyen also brought a gun-toting federal agent into the office to intimidate employees, Witherspoon claims. Some of the other explosive allegations Witherspoon makes:

  • Nguyen called an employee a “pussy” after she injured herself at a work event and asked about worker’s compensation
  • Nguyen put a nanny and a ski instructor on colour’s payroll
  • CFO Alyssa Solomon started investigating Nguyen’s spending in 2011
  • In February 2012, Solomon told sent coworkers an email saying she quit; Nguyen said he fired her
  • In June, Solomon turned over evidence of Nguyen’s alleged misspending to the board
  • On July 12, Nguyen invited a federal agent, Corey Dunphy, a Marine sergeant, carrying a gun into the office, and said that Dunphy “was the guy I’m going to use to put Alyssa into federal prison”
  • On July 17, Sequoia Capital partner Doug Leone, a member of colour’s board, held an all-hands meeting and announced that Nguyen would step away from day-to-day operations
  • colour’s lawyers, Gunderson Dettmer, hired an investigative firm, Applied Facts, to investigate events at colour
  • “In or around September,” Nguyen cut a deal to have Apple hire colour’s technical team
  • Leone resigned from colour’s board in October

We contacted colour’s law firm, Gunderson Dettmer, which hadn’t seen the complaint yet and couldn’t comment. We contacted colour and Sequoia Capital for comment and haven’t heard back yet.

In October, when we asked Leone about his company’s involvement with colour, he said, “It’s an investment.” He didn’t mention any change in its board—but he also didn’t say that he was still a board member. A source familiar with the matter confirms that Leone is not on colour’s board. 

Here’s the lawsuit:

Adam Witherspoon vs. colour

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