Sexual harassment suit filed against Pilot AI co-founders and investor NEA

Startups

Rachel Moore, the former Director Of Product at computer vision startup Pilot.AI is suing its co-founders CTO Robert Elliot English and CEO Jonathan Su for sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful discharge. Pilot.ai’s Human Resources provider Trinet and its Series A investor NEA are also named in the suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court today. The plaintiff, a 24-year-old Master’s graduate of Stanford University, is seeking a trial by jury.

The suit alleges that Su and English created a hostile work environment colored by sexually inappropriate comments, including discussions of pornography, English’s sexual exploits, and that he “participated in an anal sex workshop at Burning Man led by a famous porn star.” Only when Moore agreed to participate in the crude comments was she awarded more status in the company and a $20,000 raise.

English allegedly later invited Moore into his office, closed the door, dropped his pants while talking about his ex-girlfriend, and initially refused to let Moore leave. For rejecting his advance, he then began to retaliate against her in the workplace according to the suit. It states that Moore reported the incident to Su who dismissed the allegations as English being “sexually frustrated.” Su is said to have encouraged Moore to ask English out on a dinner date to resolve the issue, which she eventually declined out of fear for her safety.

Su later urged Moore not to file a formal report about the incident in English’s office because it could “end the company”, according to the suit. She did, prompting an investigation by law firm WilmerHale. Moore agreed to participate only if the law firm remained neutral and did not act as counsel for Pilot.ai. NEA’s Rick Yang, who sits on the board, is said to have overseen the investigation.

The suit calls the investigation “an utter sham and a cover up”. NEA allegedly took the position of refusing to disclose the investigation report claiming attorney-client privilege. Yang is said to have eventually disclosed a summary of the report that confirmed the pants-dropping incident, but found there was nothing sexual about it, and there were no repercussions for the founders. After the investigation, Moore allegedly requested a leave of absence rather than returning to the office where she would have to report to the defendents. When additional leave requests were ignored, she inquired about her employment status, and allegedly ceased to be paid or have access to company systems, and concluded she had been terminated. 

The charges filed include quid pro quo sexual harassment, hostile working environment harassment, discrimination based on gender, retaliation, failure to prevent or correct harassment, aiding and abetting harassment, wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional stress, failure to pay wages, waiting time penalities, and violations of labor and business codes.

Requests for comment from English, Su, Pilot.ai, NEA, and Trinet were not returned before press time. Moore’s law firm Arena Hoffman LLP issued this statement to TechCrunch from its attorney’s Ron Arena:

“As alleged in the complaint, Ms. Moore contends that she was subjected to a sexually charged workplace, where Pilot AI’s founders discussed anal sex workshops, boasted of sexual conquests on Tinder, named a server ‘Deep Head,’ and let executives drop their pants in a meeting and call Ms. Moore’s footwear ‘fuck me boots.’  Ms. Moore alleges that her complaints were ignored, then swept aside in a sham investigation – after she declined the CEO’s direction to meet her pants-dropping supervisor alone on a dinner date.”

We’ll have more info as it becomes available and will update with comments from the parties involved.

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