On October 31, a complaint was filed against Adam Neumann’s (former) We Company, (Medina Bardhi v. The We Company d/b/a WeWork, Adam Neuman and Jennifer Berrent) by his former Chief of Staff, Medina Bardhi, for gender pay disparity, smoking marijuana in front of her, discriminating against her and other women for their pregnancy and maternity leave, and unlawful termination of her employment. Bardhi is represented by Wigdor LLP; a firm specializing in employment law.
The complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Bardhi had two children during her five years at WeWork. The complaint alleges that on October 2, within six months after having her second child, she was terminated without notice and told it was due to the elimination of her role. This came a few weeks after Bardhi raised concerns with management in relation to discrimination for her pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave. During and after both maternity leaves, Bardhi had her role “drastically and materially reduced, being demoted, and having male employees elevated over and replacing her.” She was also paid less than the men that replaced her.
The complaint alleged Neumann routinely asked female job candidates if they planned on becoming pregnant. “Mr. Neumann repeatedly disparaged and characterized Ms. Bardhi’s maternity leave as ‘retirement’ and ‘vacation.’ He asked Bardhi during an interview if she planned on getting married and having children.”
“Defendant Jennifer Berrent, who is WeWork’s current Chief Legal Officer and has served as the Company’s Co-President, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Culture 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 alleges that it was clear they were looking for a permanent replacement for Ms. Bardhi.
The complaint states that Bardhi was forced to tell Neumann about her pregnancy after a month because she needed to explain why she could no longer accompany him on business flights, “particularly due to his penchant for bringing marijuana on chartered flights and smoking it throughout the flight while in the enclosed cabin.” Bardhi did not want to expose her unborn child to marijuana smoke, especially in an enclosed space.
The complaint alleges, “[a]fter Ms. Bardhi’s pregnancy disclosure, however, Mr. Neumann made it clear that Ms. Bardhi was being demoted by telling her, ‘We are hiring a boss for you and you are going to report into them,’ and that the new person would instead have the Chief of Staff title. By the end of September 2016, Mr. Neumann and Ms. Berrent agreed to hire someone for the Chief of Staff position. Conspicuously, the new hire, who was male and would have the same job scope and role as Ms. Bardhi, was offered an annual salary of $400,000 with a $175,000 signing bonus payable in January 2017, far more than double the annual salary of $150,000 that Ms. Bardhi was being paid in the same job…When she came back, Ms. Bardhi was not only denied a return to her previous role as Chief of Staff to Mr. Neumann, but she was given no direction or clarification as to what her role or day-to-day responsibilities were now that she was back at work.”
A few months later she was re-installed to her original Chief of Staff position, which she should have had upon her return from maternity leave. She was demoted and replaced again after her second pregnancy. The second time, she was replaced by less experienced and underqualified males, it was also unclear what her new role entailed. She repeatedly asked to have her role defined, to be given meaningful work and to speak to Neumann. She never got the clarification and Neumann continuously postponed the meetings. She was terminated on October 2, within six months after returning from her maternity leave.
According to CNBC, “WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim,” a WeWork spokesperson 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.”
“It is astonishing that WeWork could reward Adam Neumann’s blatant sexist behavior with a staggering and unprecedented golden parachute worth over a reported $1 billion, while the Company has subjected Ms. Bardhi and other women to repeated and systematic marginalization, lesser pay than their male colleagues, and retaliation for having the courage to raise legitimate complaints of gender and pregnancy discrimination,” Douglas H. Wigdor, Founding Partner at Wigdor LLP said. “Our hope is that this class action complaint will send a loud and clear message to WeWork and other startups that pregnant women cannot be forced out of their jobs, that women must be paid fairly and afforded equal opportunities, and that you cannot retaliate against any person who voices a complaint of discrimination.”