Former WeWork employee sues for sexual harassment, retaliation

A former employee at WeWork, the coworking community mecca, claims she was sexually assaulted at two company...

Posted: Oct 13, 2018 2:48 PM
Updated: Oct 13, 2018 2:48 PM

A former employee at WeWork, the coworking community mecca, claims she was sexually assaulted at two company events and ultimately fired in retaliation for reporting the incidents, according to a new lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Thursday.

The complaint alleges Ruby Anaya, who worked for the company for nearly four years as product manager and director of culture, first reported the incidents to the company's human resources department.

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WeWork

"In both cases, the company interviewed no witnesses other than the male employee in question. In both instances, the male employee professed to be too drunk to remember the incident," the complaint reads.

The second incident, the suit alleges, occurred at the company's annual Summit event in January when a male employee grabbed and pulled her into his body and then tried to forcibly kiss her mouth. The situation was allegedly escalated to the company's chief people officer as well as cofounder and chief culture officer Miguel McKelvey, who was her direct boss and is also named in the suit. Still, nothing was done, she alleges, and Anaya was fired in August 2018 in what is described in the complaint as an act of retaliation. Despite never receiving a negative performance review, she said, she was fired for being a "poor performer."

The company disputes the lawsuit's claims that Anaya had a clean performance record.

In a statement, WeWork denied the allegations: "These claims against WeWork are meritless and we will fight this lawsuit. WeWork has always been committed to fostering an inclusive, supportive, and safe workplace. WeWork investigated this employee's complaints, took appropriate action, and this employee was terminated solely because of her poor performance."

The lawsuit is peppered with details about the company's frat-like culture, including an allegation that WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann "plied [Anaya] with tequila shots during her interview with the company."

New York-based WeWork, which operates in more than 20 countries, offers tiered pricing plans for coworking spaces that can run more than $1,000 a month. Its selling point is "community," and the company, which has 6,000 corporate employees, prides itself on helping set the culture for the entrepreneurs and businesses that use its facilities.

The lawsuit also alleges that another employee "surreptitiously photographed [Anaya] having a glass of wine with another co-worker" in a bid to paint her as drinking while on the job. The company, however, has a "free beer on tap all day in all offices policy," the suit adds.

CNN Business obtained an email sent Friday afternoon by McKelvey, Anaya's former boss who is named in the suit, to WeWork staff: "Ruby frequently neglected assignments, skipped meetings and didn't show up for her team or for the company. There may be discussion in the media about what happened, but the truth is that Ruby wasn't fulfilling her role as a WeWork employee. As her manager, I was responsible for listening to feedback and taking action. Any suggestion that her dismissal was anything other than performance based is simply not true."

Seth Rafkin, Anaya's attorney, said in an emailed statement to CNN Business "if our client had been a poor performer for a long time, why didn't WeWork ever give her a warning or a performance plan, something human resources professionals will tell you is typical practice? And why did the decision to fire her come only after she complained again about a sexual assault and the way it was handled?"

"Notably, Mr. McKelvey's email to WeWork's employees wholly ignores the specific allegations concerning the assaults, the fact that our client complained, a surreptitious photo taken of our client, etc," he said.

Anaya is seeking punitive and economic damages including lost compensation due to being fired before some of her stock vested with the company, as well as damages for emotional distress and humiliation.

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