- Adam Neumann’s former chief of staff has filed a complaint saying the ousted CEO, WeWork, and the company’s current chief operating officer discriminated against her for being pregnant.
- In a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York, Medina Bardhi said that she was demoted after each of her two pregnancies and that her male replacements made substantially more money.
- While Bardhi was pregnant, she flew on a private plane on which Neumann and others smoked marijuana, according to the complaint.
- WeWork said in a statement that it intended to vigorously defend itself against the claim.
- For more stories about WeWork, click here.
Adam Neumann’s right-hand woman said in a complaint filed Thursday that while she was pregnant she had to fly in a private plane with the then-WeWork CEO and other executives who were smoking marijuana.
In a filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York, Medina Bardhi said she was discriminated against for years by WeWork, Neumann, and the company’s chief operating officer, Jennifer Berrent, including around two pregnancies.
The complaint said Bardhi’s treatment was part of a larger pattern of WeWork discriminating against female employees.
The company says it plans to fight the complaint.
“WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim,” a WeWork spokeswoman said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. We are committed to moving the company forward and building a company and culture that our employees can be proud of.”
A representative for Neumann, who was ousted as CEO in September, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bardhi said she was asked about her plans to become pregnant as far back as her October 2013 interview for the role of Neumann’s chief of staff. She said in the complaint that she was demoted after returning from both of her two maternity leaves, most recently earlier this year, and had to move offices and that her male replacements made significantly more money.
Bardhi started working with Neumann in 2005. She was laid off from WeWork in early October, part of cuts following Neumann’s ouster that saw most of his support staff leave. According to the complaint, Bardhi had started raising concerns about pregnancy- and maternity-leave-related discrimination weeks before her termination.
The complaint described a work environment in which female employees were demeaned for taking maternity leave and where more qualified women commonly earned less than their male colleagues.
Two other female employees have filed suit against WeWork in recent years, with both including claims of pay inequality. One suit said an employee was sexually assaulted at two company events, and the other, which was dropped in mid-September, alleged gender discrimination and retaliation.
According to Bardhi’s complaint, in late March a female executive who was four weeks into her maternity leave came in for a meeting with Neumann and now-co-CEO Artie Minson. There, she was told she was no longer continuing in her executive role. Fearing she would lose her job, she came back after six weeks of leave “without a clear role or job responsibilities” and then left the company, the complaint said.
Pregnancy as a ‘problem’ that needed ‘to be fixed’
Neumann repeatedly called Bardhi’s maternity leave “retirement” and “vacation” in front of other employees, the complaint said.
During Bardhi’s first pregnancy, when she was making $US150,000 a year, Neumann replaced her with a male chief of staff who was offered $US400,000 with a $US175,000 signing bonus, according to the complaint.
When she returned from maternity leave, the chief of staff took her office while she shared a table with Neumann’s other staff, Bardhi said in the complaint. She, along with other employees, struggled to pump because the lactation room was “inexcusably unsanitary,” with no scheduling system for the five to 10 employees who needed to use it, the complaint said.
The complaint said that eventually the male chief of staff moved roles and Bardhi got her job back. But when she was pregnant for the second time, Neumann again looked for a permanent replacement for her role. They found another man who moved into her office as soon as he heard she was giving birth.
Eventually, a former business analyst at Goldman Sachs took the chief-of-staff job, and when Bardhi returned from maternity leave, she had no clear role or “meaningful work” for months, the complaint said.
She then was assigned to oversee the account for employees to message Neumann.
The complaint said that Bardhi raised concerns with multiple executives, including Chris Hill, WeWork’s chief product officer and Neumann’s brother-in-law.
The problem wasn’t just Neumann, per the complaint. Berrent, a longtime part of Neumann’s inner circle who is now the firm’s chief legal officer, “referred to Ms. Bardhi’s pregnancy as a ‘problem’ that needed ‘a solution’ and ‘to be fixed,’ and she repeatedly worked with Mr. Neumann to permanently replace Ms. Bardhi,” the complaint said.
Her complaint said that on a 2015 plane ride from Mexico City to New York, executives drunk on tequila joked about sexual acts that left Bardhi “feeling disgusted.”
The complaint said Neumann’s pattern of harassment continued through the lead-up to WeWork’s initial public offering, which was ultimately shelved. In a car ride from JPMorgan’s office, the complaint said, Neumann, in front of his personal assistant, “denigrated Ms. Bardhi for having taken maternity leave.”
According to the complaint, after Neumann stepped down as CEO, Bardhi was told on a call with Minson and two human-resources employees that she was being terminated because there was no role for her following Neumann’s departure.
Now, Bardhi is asking the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate her claims of discrimination and retaliation against WeWork’s female employees.
The New York-based attorney Douglas Wigdor is representing her.
The commission will investigate and decide whether discrimination occurred, at which time the parties could resolve the case through an informal process with the commission. If the case is still not resolved, the commission can file a lawsuit, and if the agency does not, it would give Bardhi the right to sue.
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