Silicon Valley startup accused of encouraging sexual behavior in workplace

Silicon Valley has been rocked by one sexual harassment lawsuit after another this year, drawing attention to a pervasive problem that exists in far too many workplaces in the technology sector.

In a recent case, a former employee sued UploadVR for sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation. The Oakland-based virtual reality startup settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.

Elizabeth Scott, who worked as a digital and social media director at the company, said the workplace was unbearable due to the “rampant sexual behavior” it cultivated. She described the offices as having a sexually charged atmosphere, including a “kink room” in which workers were encouraged to have sex. In addition, a manager allegedly made repeated comments about her body.

In her discrimination claim, Scott said female employees were paid unfairly in comparison to male colleagues and excluded from meetings, work lunches and important emails. They were also required to clean the kitchen and carry out other menial tasks. Scott said she was fired after complaining about the workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

After the lawsuit, UploadVR appeared to be taking steps to improve its workplace culture. The company appointed new senior management, set up a human resources team, created an employee handbook and established a process that allows the safe reporting of workplace issues. However, founders Taylor Freeman and Will Mason did not resign, unlike former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick was forced to leave Uber amid a number of sexual harassment complaints and other controversies.

Freeman and Mason had earlier released a statement denying Scott’s allegations and saying her sexual harassment lawsuit was “without merit.” They later backtracked and issued an apology for their poor handling of the matter.

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