Last year was tough for Gurbaksh “G” Chahal, the troubled founder of RadiumOne, who was ousted from the firm by his own board after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanour domestic violence charges.
It looks like 2015 will be permeated with more legal issues for Chahal, who is now the CEO of another ad-tech startup, Gravity4.
Gravity4’s former senior vice president of global marketing Erika Alonso sued Chahal and his company on Tuesday, Forbes reports.
Alonso claims she was harassed, discriminated against because of both her age and gender, and that she was secretly and illegally spied on during her job interview there. According to the complaint, Chahal searched for and hired a female CEO in order to shed his “gender-biased image.” You can read the entire complaint in full below, courtesy of TechCrunch.
In response to the suit, Gravity4 published a blog post on Tuesday, authored by the company’s chief of staff Michelle Louangamath and director of global recruiting Staci King, both female. In it, Louangamath says that Alonso’s suit is a “sad desperate cry for publicity because of the recent Ellen Pao case.”
King says that the company does not hire based on gender, age, or ethnicity, that the company does not operate any surveillance equipment in its office for interviewing purposes, and that there are a number of “false accusations” in the suit.
Chahal also comments: “As Chairman and CEO of Gravity4, I am shocked at these allegations, as they’re simply baseless, false, and can not be supported by facts. We are very clear on knowing what the motives were on having this case filed, and look forward to defending it and clearing the name of Gravity4 based on actual facts.”
“I applaud all of my hard-working employees regardless of their age, gender, or race that have grown Gravity4 to become my biggest success yet, in just these 9 months.”
More bad news for “G”
Nevertheless, the complaint against Chahal is extremely damaging to his reputation. It not only claims he was extremely unprofessional in his relationship with Alonso, but that he sought revenge on his former company RadiumOne.
The allegations come after Chahal was accused of beating his girlfriend multiple times at his home one evening last summer (The prosecution dropped felony charges, but he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanours, domestic assault, and domestic violence, after a plea bargain. He was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to complete a 52-week program that included domestic-violence intervention and to perform 25 hours of community service.)
It also doesn’t help his case denying that anonymous tips sent to reporters last month suggesting RadiumOne was in a dire financial state and has just “three months of cash left” came from him. RadiumOne Bill Lornegan has denied the company is in financial trouble.
Several days after the anonymous emails were sent — and Business Insider received a call from G Chahal’s cell phone number from a woman purporting to be one of the anonymous sources, but denying that she knew Chahal — two board members resigned. Sources told Business Insider the board members were stepping down because they were tired of Chahal’s drama.
The case against Chahal and Gravity4
Alonso is suing Chahal and Grabity4 on the grounds of: gender discrimination; age discrimination; harassment; retaliation; failure to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; and unlawful electronic eavesdropping.
The issues started before Alonso even joined the company, according to the suit. Alonso claims that when she was called for an interview with Gravity4 last November, she was brought to a conference room where she was grilled by the interviewer for her thoughts on Chahal’s criminal history, and whether she thought he had really assaulted his girlfriend. According to the complaint, Alonso later discovered that the room had been bugged with cameras and microphones and that Chahal had been secretly watching the interview, texting questions to the interviewer.
The suit also alleges that the company’s president at the time, Wayne Powers, indicated to Alonso that Gravity4 was seeking to hire a woman to assist the company in rebuilding the brand, which had been damaged by Chahal’s conduct being reported in the media.
Things got worse after Alonso decided to join the company. The suit alleges that Chahal and Gravity4 discriminated against Alonso because she was a female, above the age of 40. It claims that the company said that as a woman, she should “appeal” to female reporters, that Alonso was “unduly” criticised, while male employees and those younger than her were lauded, that she was forced to keep pace with men by doing shots of hard liquor, and that she was fired because she was not part of the “boys club” at Gravity4.
Here’s one scene detailed in the suit:
When Alonso indicated that she was not comfortable with drinking hard liquor, and asked if she could join them with a glass of wine, Chahal aggressively insisted that she “do shots.” at which point she agreed, as a new employee in a high-pressure situation with her new employer. This was not the only instance in which Chahal strong-armed Alonso into drinking shots of hard alcohol. This happened again once she was employed by Gravity4 on December 17, 2014, December 18, 2014, January 7. 2014, and January 8, 2015, all at company dinners and parties.
The forced consumption of hard alcohol disproportionately affected Ms. Alonso, a petite woman.
The suit claims Alonso noticed a “constant theme of revenge against Chahal’s previous employer, RadiumOne, which is a direct competitor to Gravity4. It claims:
Chahal habitually made statements disparaging RadiumOne, including, but not limited to, calling RadiumOne employees “a**holes” and stating, “I can’t wait to get those fuckers” Upon information and belief, the latter comment related ot his attempts to purchase RadiumOne, despite the company’s rejection of purchase offers from Chahal and/or Gravity4.
According to the lawsuit, Chahal bragged that he had the several-thousand-member contact list of RadiumOne (sensitive, potentially trade secret information), and he had instructed employees to send Gravity4 press releases to all the contacts on the list — but removing any RadiumOne employees, so his former employer would become suspicious.
Alonso says she realised she had been terminated from the company on or around January 30, 2015, when her email was abruptly disconnected and her photo was removed from Gravity4’s website. At around that time she also received a letter from Gravity4’s external human resources company, letting her know her contract had been terminated.
Defending Alonso in court is Harmeet Dhillon, a high-profile attorney who has a history of taking on cases for domestic violence and civil rights victims. As Forbes notes:
She is vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party and experienced domestic violence herself at the hands of her first husband. She has done legal work to defend Sikh civil rights, and she and Chahal are both Sikhs — something that she said did not affect her decision to take on the case. But she added that his domestic violence case was “a source of embarrassment” for the local Sikh community. “He is an individual, but this is not consistent with the values we are taught,” she said.
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