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Andreessen-Backed Fintech's ‘Abusive' Boss Sued for Gender Bias

Julie Verhage

(Bloomberg) -- Three women are suing a Silicon Valley-based, Andreessen Horowitz-backed fintech startup for harassment. The women are alleging discrimination based on gender, pregnancy and age, and have named both the company and its chief executive officer as defendants in a complaint filed Monday in San Francisco state court.

The women allege that the CEO of Synapse Financial Technologies Inc., Sankaet Pathak, was verbally abusive and antagonized them in meetings and in private. The CEO “undermined, intimidated, and toyed with the female employees,” the women said in the complaint, which also alleges that Pathak made “overt, graphic sexual comments in front of and to female employees and demeaned and belittled them.”

Synapse did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In September, Synapse and Pathak sued unidentified people who posted anonymous reviews on Glassdoor, saying the negative reviews were false. In response to a subpoena seeking the identities of the reviewers, Glassdoor said that Synapse had not adequately proved the statements were untrue.

Synapse, a startup that helps companies launch banking products such as debit cards and savings accounts through its platform, has raised about $50 million in funding so far. The company’s technology that allows other fintechs to more easily work with existing banks, which can process and store consumers’ cash. Andreessen Horowitz led its most recent funding round, for $33 million in June, with participation from investors including Core Innovation Capital and Trinity Ventures.

If substantiated, the women’s claims against the company would fit into a wider trend of harassment toward women at high-flying Silicon Valley companies, though the allegations in the suit are uncommonly severe. They include obstructing an employee’s path to the exits during a contentious meeting, “screaming profanities” and a pattern of demeaning comments. One of the plaintiffs in the suit had a miscarriage, the complaint said, after the CEO’s “harassment continued” and her “anxiety increased.”

The suit was brought by Asya Bradley, Taylor Sims and Mharie Fraser, all of whom left the company or were fired within the last two years. They allege that Pathak “screamed and cursed at the female employees and would block the door to intimidate them from leaving conference rooms.” According to the complaint, “He did not do this to the male employees.”

The complaint also alleges that the company discriminated against one employee because she had more than one child while working at Synapse. It says CEO Pathak told employees that Bradley “had too many babies” and that she was taking advantage of Synapse by using maternity leave.

Pathak also allegedly made inappropriate comments to one woman based on her age, saying the male employee she was having lunch with on her first day at Synapse was “into mom types.” Pathak also speculated that the company did not have many older workers “for a reason,” saying, “We need fresh perspectives to do this job right,” according to the complaint.

(Corrects identity of defendants sued for defamation and clarifies that Glassdoor was responding to subpoena in the third paragraph.)

To contact the author of this story: Julie Verhage in New York at jverhage2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anne VanderMey at avandermey@bloomberg.net, Mark MilianPeter Blumberg

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