- Three former WeWork employees, including its diversity and inclusion program lead, filed lawsuits against the company last week, according to court documents and various media reports.
- Christopher Clermont, the D&I lead, and Diane Allen, a stock plan administrator, filed separate complaints July 8, each alleging race discrimination, among other things, according to Business Insider. Clermont alleged WeWork "keeps people of color out of leadership positions and under compensated," all the while asking such workers to pose for photos it uses to "promote its facade of real diversity." In addition to allegations of race- and gender-based pay discrimination, Allen accused WeWork's HR department of failing to take action after she was sexually harassed at a company event, Business Insider reported.
- A day later, Alexandra Fitzgerald, a former project manager, submitted a complaint alleging the company used pandemic-related layoffs to fire her in retaliation for complaints about a supervisor who she said sexually harassed her (Fitzgerald v. We Company dba WeWork, No. 1:20-cv-05260 (S.D.N.Y. July 9, 2020)). WeWork did not respond to request for comment before press time.
Last week was not the first time WeWork received discrimination allegations. In June 2019, a former company executive sued WeWork and its head of human resources in state court alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination, equal pay violations, retaliation and aiding and abetting discrimination under New York City and state law.
At the time, the company was also facing an age discrimination lawsuit from a former vice president who claimed that several months after he was hired, the company hired someone 20 years younger with the same title without explanation, Bloomberg previously reported. The executive was later told that his position was being eliminated.
Employers that act appropriately upon learning of sexual harassment complaints may have a strong defense if they're later taken to court. Generally, the employer must show that it tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
One employer, for instance, was found not liable after an employee alleged a hostile work environment created by co-workers; the court held that the employer took prompt remedial action that was sufficiently calculated to stop the harassment. Within 24 hours of receiving a harassment complaint, the employer took several steps, including separating the complainant from the accused.
It follows that it benefits employers to create a reporting procedure for harassment and discrimination that starts with taking all complaints seriously regardless of whether the alleged harassment is at the hands of a supervisor or co-worker, and make sure that complaints are promptly investigated, experts previously told HR Dive.
Compliance training is also important in preventing discrimination and harassment claims. Employers should conduct harassment training at least once a year, with separate sessions for managers and employees, legal experts have said.