She alleges she was demoted after both pregnancies — and replaced by men at higher wages — and given no instruction about her new responsibilities.
“During and after both leaves, Ms. Bardhi paid the price in her position and earning power at the Company, by having her role drastically and materially reduced, being demoted, and having male employees elevated over and replacing her,” the complaint states.
The EEOC will investigate the allegations; if it finds that discrimination occurred, then Bardhi and WeWork will be invited to participate in a conciliation process with the agency. If it isn’t resolved through conciliation, the agency could file a federal lawsuit. Should it decide against litigation, Bardhi would then have the right to sue.
WeWork already faces lawsuits alleging age, gender and pay discrimination from multiple women, including a former executive. Once valued at as much as $47 billion, the co-working company has had a tumultuous run since it postponed its IPO in September amid troubling reports about Neumann’s behavior and questions about the company’s true worth. WeWork was on the brink of running out of money before it secured a $9.5 billion bailout from SoftBank. Last month, Neumann severed nearly every tie with the company he founded, his departure sweetened by $1.7 billion in cash and credit.
“WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim,” the company said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post. “We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. We are committed to moving the company forward and building a company and culture that our employees can be proud of.”
A personal spokesperson for Neumann did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Bardhi’s complaint, the discrimination began at her October 2013 job interview, when Neumann “unlawfully and intrusively” asked when she was going to get married and become pregnant — a question he routinely asked female candidates. When she became pregnant in March 2016, the document says, she was “scared” to disclose it but felt obligated to explain why she couldn’t accompany Neumann on business travels, “due to his penchant for bringing marijuana on chartered flights and smoking it throughout the flight.” She did not want to expose her unborn child to the smoke.
The complaint also alleges that Jennifer Berrent, the chief operating officer, repeatedly referred to Bardhi’s pregnancy and impending maternity leave as a “problem” that had to “be fixed.” Two months after Neumann learned of Bardhi’s pregnancy, he told her that a search for her replacement was underway
“It was clear that WeWork was not just looking for temporary coverage, but a permanent replacement, in direct response to her pregnancy,” the complaint states.
The male employee who succeeded Bardhi after the first pregnancy was offered $400,000 a year, plus a $175,000 signing bonus, the complaint says, while she earned $150,000. Though she was eventually reinstated, the sequence was repeated after she became pregnant in February, the filing shows: She was replaced by a male hire, demoted and not given any meaningful work for months, the complaint states.
Bardhi says she was fired over the phone in early October, six months after giving birth and days after Neumann’s exit. She had worked with Neumann since 2005, at his previous company, Egg Baby. She was told there was no longer a role for her with Neumann’s departure, although she had not worked closely with him for months.
“Our hope is that this class action complaint will send a loud and clear message to WeWork and other start-ups that pregnant women cannot be forced out of their jobs, that women must be paid fairly and afforded equal opportunities, and that you cannot retaliate against any person who voices a complaint of discrimination,” Bardhi’s attorney, Douglas Wigdor, said in a statement.