U.S. Markets open in 3 hrs

At WeWork, Maternity Leave Mocked as ‘Vacation,’ Aide Claims

Erik Larson

(Bloomberg) -- WeWork was accused of discrimination by ousted chief executive officer Adam Neumann’s former chief of staff, who says she was demoted twice after giving birth and that her ex-boss called her maternity leave “vacation.”

A complaint of anti-pregnancy bias filed Thursday with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the latest of several civil rights cases brought against the office-sharing company, including lawsuits over gender and age discrimination.

The claim by Medina Bardhi, a WeWork employee for more than five years, comes on the heels of a disastrous initial public offering and continued criticism over the company’s all-male board.

Bardhi hopes her complaint will trigger a class-action suit on behalf of other women at the company, whom she claims are harassed and underpaid, according to a statement from her lawyer, Douglas Wigdor.

“For years, they have been subjected to a work environment in which female employees are demeaned for taking maternity leave, excessive alcohol consumption fuels offensive sexual conduct towards women, and where it is common for women to be paid less than their male colleagues in the same or similar roles,” according to the complaint filed with the EEOC’s New York office.

The complaint also names WeWork Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Berrent. WeWork, based in New York, rejected the allegations.

“WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim,” the company 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.”

Read More: WeWork Chairman Says Diversity Is Coming to All-Male Board

Bardhi says she gave birth to two children while working for Neumann and that both times the company searched for a permanent replacement for her.

“Like clockwork, each time Ms. Bardhi returned to work following her maternity leave, WeWork’s management transparently and systematically marginalized and discriminated against her by drastically and materially reducing her role and/or demoting her outright,” Wigdor said in the statement.

That’s also when Bardhi says she was forced to endure discriminatory remarks about the time she took off to give birth to her children.

“Mr. Neumann repeatedly disparaged and characterized Ms. Bardhi’s maternity leave as ‘retirement’ and ‘vacation,’” the complaint says. “Ms. Bardhi also learned that she was paid less than the men with whom the company unlawfully replaced her.”

Bardhi alleges she was fired without notice on Oct. 2, about six months after giving birth and two weeks after she says she raised concerns to multiple WeWork executives.

(Updates with details of allegations against ex-CEO.)

--With assistance from Ellen Huet.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, ;Mark Milian at mmilian@bloomberg.net, Peter Blumberg, Steve Stroth

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.