Pilot AI Labs has become the latest in a string of tech startups accused of having a culture ripe with toxic masculinity
From male co-workers allegedly watching porn in the office and having designated masturbation zones to a co-founder being accused of undressing in front of a worker and firing her when she rejected his sexual advances, the details of the latest sexual harassment lawsuit to rock the tech scene are shocking to say the least.
Pilot AI Labs, the artificial intelligence startup, rose to fame after its 2016 series A round saw the company get valued at $23m. However, a lawsuit filed at the San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday August 1 suggests the people at the business may be less than professional, according to The Mercury News that first broke the story.
Rachel Moore, the former director of product at Pilot AI Labs, alleged the company was rife with toxic masculinity and hostile against women. For instance, she claimed male employees watched pornography in public, used the server area to masturbate and that work folders had names like Deep Head.
Moore also claimed the co-founders played a key role in creating the toxic environment. She accused both Robert English, the CTO, and his co-founder Jonathan Su, the CEO, of openly talking about their sexual conquests and preferences. For instance, English told her he’d “participated in an anal sex workshop at Burning Man led by a famous porn star” and told Moore she wore “fuck me boots”. Additionally, the former employee claimed she wasn’t taken seriously unless she was “on a very limited basis” engaging in the sexually-charged conversations.
The legal documents argued that Moore had enough when English allegedly called her into his office, closed the door, dropped his trousers, began talking about his ex-girlfriend’s faults and wouldn’t let her leave despite her asking to do so. When she reported the incident to Su, the CEO dismissed it.
Following her rejection of English’s advances, the lawsuit claimed the environment at Pilot AI Labs became even more hostile with her being left out of meetings, had a less senior employee take over her duties, being assigned trivial tasks and being accused of being too emotional.
Eventually, her accusations were investigated by a law firm. However, she later rejected the procedure as “an utter sham and a cover up” after it acknowledged English having undressed but said it was nothing sexual about it.
Pilot AI Labs granted Moore a leave of absence before the investigation started as well as a second one afterwards. When she asked for a third one, Moore claimed she was ignored as were her attempts to find out if she had a job before the startup ceased to pay her and cut off her access to its computer systems.
This is not the first sexual harassment and gender discrimination case to shake Silicon Valley. Uber famously struggles with continuous accusations of sexual harassment in its offices and in April Microsoft was also accused of nurturing a culture that’s discriminatory to women. Add to that reports about venture capitalists using their position to make female founders have sex with them and how some people applauded James Damore’s memo about how men are better at tech than women and it’s easy to see how the startup scene is still struggling with how it treats women.
For Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and former CEO of Uber, the accusations played a huge role in him being ousted from the company. If you’re startup founder who’s in it for the long run then one thing is certain: you must create a culture where sexual harassment isn’t tolerated.