October 31, 2019 / 9:21 PM / 17 days ago

WeWork, former CEO Adam Neumann accused of pregnancy discrimination

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The former chief of staff to ousted WeWork CEO Adam Neumann has accused him and the company of discrimination, saying she feared for the health of her unborn baby because of Neumann’s penchant for smoking marijuana on chartered planes.

FILE PHOTO: Adam Neumann, CEO of WeWork, speaks to guests during the TechCrunch Disrupt event in Manhattan, in New York City, NY, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

She also said she was replaced by a man making more than twice her salary when she took maternity leave.

In a complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Medina Bardhi said she began suffering discrimination soon after telling Neumann that she was pregnant with her first child in 2016.

She said in the complaint that she had been hesitant to tell him early in her pregnancy, but was forced to do so because of his smoking marijuana on the flights, potentially exposing her unborn child to secondhand smoke.

Bardhi said she was fired about six months after giving birth to her second child and just weeks after raising concerns about discrimination in connection with her pregnancy and maternity leave.

“WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim,” the company said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”

Medina’s complaint, filed on behalf of a proposed class of other female employees, also names Jennifer Berrent, who was WeWork’s chief legal officer, saying she referred to Bardhi’s first pregnancy as a “problem” that needed to be “fixed.”

Neumann also referred to Bardhi’s upcoming maternity leave as a “vacation,” the complaint said.

Bardhi said that when she returned from maternity leave, she was not given her old job back for several months.

The pattern repeated itself when she became pregnant in 2018, had a child and took maternity leave again, according to Bardhi’s complaint. She was fired on Oct. 2, about a week after Neumann stepped down as WeWork’s chief executive, and was told that her role had been eliminated, according to the complaint.

WeWork is already facing other complaints of discrimination, including a lawsuit by a former senior vice president, Lisa Bridges, who says the company tried to force her out when she presented evidence that it compensated men better than women.

Neumann agreed to resign as CEO and give up majority voting control of the company in September after SoftBank Group Corp and other shareholders turned on him over a plunge in the company’s estimated valuation ahead of a planned initial public offering.

(This version refiles to fix spelling of Neumann in first sentence)

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler

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