A few years ago, WeWork was one of the hottest names in commercial real estate, leasing co-working office space in dozens of major U.S. cities to start-ups, tech companies and others. Its bright arc of ascension came to a sudden stop about a year ago, however, when the company’s business practices came under intense public and investor scrutiny after announcing its IPO.
WeWork’s founder/CEO resigned under pressure, the effort to go public was postponed, and by year’s end, a fifth of its work force had been laid off.
The two latest blows to the besieged company arrived in a pair of lawsuits. In the first suit, WeWork is accused of racial discrimination and retaliation by its former head of diversity. Christopher Clermont, who is African American, said the company underpays minority employees and excludes them from management.
The second lawsuit was filed by a former stock plan administrator who alleges sexual harassment, retaliation and gender and race discrimination.
Diane Allen says after being hired in 2017, she was sexually harassed for her first six months on the job. She says management took no action after she reported the harassment.
She also says that after she voiced concerns about WeWork’s stock options practices, she was excluded from meetings and denied pay raises, though “other similarly situated male or non-Black employees received several.”
In addition, Allen claims that despite her two decades of experience and MBA, a white man with less experience was hired to do the same work, but was paid 12 percent more – and was then promoted above her. When she complained, her manager replied angrily that he’s “not a racist.”
She later quit.
Clermont says pay inequity and racial discrimination are so common at WeWork that Black employees came up with the phrase “WeWorking while Black.”
A company spokesperson said that after an investigation of the two former employees’ allegations, WeWork “found them to be wholly without merit.”
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for companies to dismiss complaints of unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and gender. Many employees and former employees assume that the dismissals are the final word on the subject.
At the Milwaukee law offices of Alan C. Olson and Associates, we make your voice heard by holding employers accountable for violating workplace rights. Contact us to discuss employment law litigation and compensation.