The founders of Silicon Valley startup UploadVR landed on Forbes' coveted 30 under 30 list this year. And now, they have reached another tech world milestone — being sued for rampant sexual harassment. The details of the lawsuit describe a company that seems to have looked at other startup's workplace environments and decided they just weren't hostile enough.
UploadVR founder Will Mason is seen in VR gear at a conference. Photo: AP
Despite his company's litany of problems, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was supposed to appear onstage at Code Conference, a fancy tech gathering, at the end of May. It would have been a good time for the yelling executive to weigh in on the allegations of sexual harassment at his company, the ongoing investigation into those claims, the assorted lawsuits Uber faces from its competitors, and the fact that a ton of high-profile employees — even PR flacks — are headed for the exit.
UploadVR basically functions as a promoter of all things having to do with virtual/augmented/mixed reality. It has a news website, runs co-working spaces and throws events. The lawsuit alleges that the company's employees and founders created a hostile work environment in which sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation occurred on a regular basis. The two remaining founders of the startup, Taylor Freeman and William Mason, are specifically named throughout the court documents as participants in the behaviour.
In the suit documents, the former Director of Digital and Social Media for UploadVR claims that the office environment was a "boy's club" that employees expressly referred to as a "boy's club". From the suit:
Specifically, the male employees of UploadVR, including Mason and Freeman, would discuss their sexual exploits in graphic detail at the workplace in front of Plaintiff and other female employees. For instance, UploadVR employee [name redacted]'s sex life was a frequent topic of conversation. The other male employees would talk about how he "refuses to wear a condom" and "has had sex with over 1000 people."
Gross. But the allegations just grow more and more jaw-dropping. The founders and other employees are accused of speaking "sexually" about female employees right to their face, and one employee would, allegedly, talk about having "a boner" and going to the bathroom to "rub one out" in order to maintain focus. The suit clarifies that to mean "he was going to the restroom to masturbate".
In an echo of the accusations that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took employees to an escort bar on a company trip to South Korea, UploadVR's founders allegedly sent out emails to the staff searching for "Samurai Girls" while on a fundraising trip in Asia. "Samurai Girls" are defined in the suit as "submissive, Asian women". After one executive went to Thailand, he is accused of sending an email of his STD results to the company.
It just goes on and on. Not content with talking about sex at work, the employees allegedly had a "kink room" in the office that contained a bed and was intended to "encourage sexual intercourse in the office". Male employees allegedly used the room for its intended purpose and, often, "underwear and condom wrappers would be found in the room".
The documents also claim that employees were engaged in Silicon Valley's hot new trend of "microdosing" and "using Marijuana in the office". When female employees didn't want to participate, they would be ostracised by the male employees and excluded from important meetings and lunches.
The plaintiff claims that she was wrongfully terminated after making complaints about the behaviour. She alleges that the repulsive treatment of women was a companywide issue and outlines numerous ways in which female employees were treated differently. The list of violations include things like unequal pay and lack of opportunity for promotion. A section describing how women were expected to do "womanly tasks" describes an environment that was cartoonishly sexist. Female employees were expected to clean up after events and parties, while men were not. The defendants allegedly told the plaintiff that women should be "mommies" and help the men with whatever they needed.
The full, nauseating list of accusations can be read here.