WeWork Hit With Gender, Racial Discrimination Lawsuit
A former WeWork employee is suing the coworking giant for gender and race discrimination, saying she was promised a well-paying job that never materialized, all while less-qualified white people were promoted.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in New York, Ayesha Whyte alleges that after she agreed to leave her job at Disney back in 2018 to join WeWork as a director of employee relations in the company's Manhattan headquarters for $195K a year, WeWork backtracked when she started working there and changed her job to an “undetermined position."
Within months of starting, she was told she would actually be paid 20% less than was promised, and that she would remain in Washington, D.C., in a lower position, she claimed. Having already left Disney, she had no “practical choice but to stick it out with WeWork and hope things improved,” according to her lawsuit. “They didn’t.”
Whyte filed her claims in New York Supreme Court, but WeWork applied for it to be moved to federal court in the Southern District of New York, where it denied the allegations.
Whyte also alleges she was forced to evaluate applicants for the job that she was promised, and that it was eventually offered to a white woman. She also said she found circumstances of white colleagues in similar roles being paid more than she was, and that ultimately WeWork began to “freeze” her out of key aspects of her job.
Following her complaints to the company, Whyte said WeWork ran two internal investigations that found no wrongdoing. The suit alleges she was terminated from her position in October last year, and when she told WeWork that she was planning to sue, the company threatened it would go after her for legal fees if she pursued the case in public court.
Along with Whyte’s specific complaints, the suit also claims WeWork has a culture of discrimination that stems from the top, pointing out that most people of color at the company are in the lowest-paid positions. It also alleges that WeWork co-President Jen Berrent once told the diversity team that she “can’t empathize with black people.”
“Behind the scenes, at multiple levels throughout the organization, WeWork keeps people of color out of leadership positions and under-compensated,” the lawsuit reads.
Whyte is seeking damages for back wages and benefits, lost future earnings, and compensation for emotional distress and legal fees. The total damages could reach more than $285K, per court documents.
“At WeWork, we prioritize equal employment opportunity, including hiring, promotion and compensation, and believe these claims are wholly without merit,” a WeWork spokesperson said.
WeWork, in the wake of its failed IPO last year, is working to rebuild its business. Last month, Sandeep Mathrani joined as the company's CEO, followed by Shyam Gidumal in the role of chief operating officer.
But in the last week, damaging stories about WeWork’s culture have emerged, including the revelation that the company reportedly had to pay more than $2M in 2018 to a female employee in the real estate division who was claiming widespread sexual harassment, pay discrimination and drug use within the company.
WeWork was also sued by its former director of culture, who said she was sexually assaulted twice at company events. Last year, a former WeWork employee accused the company of pregnancy discrimination. Both those lawsuits are ongoing.