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Women allege racism, sexism at food media company Feedfeed

Rachel Gurjar, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Feedfeed, at her home in Brooklyn. (Jesse Dittmar for The Washington Post)

Rachel Gurjar and Sara Tane started working on the same day in 2018 at Feedfeed, a digital food media company that, with 2 million followers on Instagram, calls itself the “world’s largest crowd sourced publication.” Gurjar was hired as social media coordinator, Tane as food editor and content strategist. They considered their jobs comparable.

They came from vastly different backgrounds. A native of Mumbai, Gurjar worked in public relations there before immigrating to the United States to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America. She then launched a career as a private chef and caterer, squeezing in shifts as a hostess and server at a Michelin-starred restaurant. She also started blogging, relying on a master’s degree in broadcasting and journalism.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Tane earned a bachelor’s in international studies and food studies. She was an intern at Saveur magazine, a fellow at Cooking Light and an assistant editor at MyRecipes, where she developed recipes and hosted a Facebook Watch series, “Homemade vs. the Internet.”

Gurjar, then 30, was hired at an annual salary of $50,400. Tane, then 24, received $72,000.

The $21,600 disparity could be chalked up to Tane’s relevant experience and the company’s needs, as Feedfeed’s attorney told The Washington Post, later adding that her PR work wasn’t on the resume and cover letter she submitted to the company when she applied. It could be that Gurjar didn’t know she could ask for more money, as Tane said she did, to compensate for Feedfeed’s lack of health benefits at the time. Or it could be, as Gurjar and former colleague Sahara Henry-Bohoskey allege in a federal discrimination lawsuit filed Tuesday, that founders Dan and Julie Resnick fostered a workplace culture in which White employees thrived while the plaintiffs, both women of color, were paid less, verbally abused and retaliated against when they complained.

In their lawsuit and in interviews with The Post, Gurjar, 33, and Henry-Bohoskey, 30, a Black woman raised in Japan, paint a picture of Feedfeed as a place that tolerated casual racism and sexism. In their complaint, they allege they were tasked with menial labor and were used to promote Feedfeed’s diversity while being treated as “second-class employees.” They also allege they were encouraged not to take lunch breaks and were regularly required to work evenings and weekends, often receiving no overtime.

“I don’t believe that the Resnicks necessarily set out to create a racist caste system in their company. But it is what they did, because they didn’t care to try not to,” emailed Susan Crumiller, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

The Resnicks told The Post that the allegations are “simply untrue.” They said they’ve created a “creative, constructive, and dynamic” work culture in which staff and management collaborate “like close-knit family.” They said they took a chance on two unproven women who chafed under the direction of owners and managers looking to establish a demanding, hard-charging workplace that could compete in the digital media market.

In response to more than six pages of questions from The Post, Feedfeed provided 16 pages of answers, along with dozens of supporting documents. The company’s response alleges that the founders gave Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey plenty of opportunities and the women never reached their potential, ultimately becoming insubordinate as Feedfeed grew more structured. The company also sent positive testimonials from current employees, including a Black director hired in 2020.

In their statement, the Resnicks said: “We are distraught that it has come to this. ... The number of falsehoods and inaccurate, misleading statements are too numerous to mention in this brief response but will be presented in a court of law.”

For this story, The Post communicated with more than 20 former and current employees and managers at Feedfeed, a small company whose vast social media reach and loyal audience attracts major sponsors and inspires tens of thousands of cooks, influencers and bloggers to use its Instagram hashtags daily. Some people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want their name tied to the legal battle.

As Feedfeed’s influence grew, so did its staff. In December 2018, the company hired Jake Cohen, who had worked at Saveur and Tasting Table, to be editorial and test kitchen director. Cohen had a sizable following on social media, an enticement to a company that relies on the platforms for its livelihood. (As of this writing, Cohen had 1.4 million followers on TikTok and 599,000 on Instagram; Cohen, a cookbook author, was also recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.) Cohen, like the Resnicks, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey said they had hoped Cohen, despite his youth, would become a mentor. But, according to the lawsuit, Cohen “became an immediate and active participant in the abuse,” an allegation he denies.

Cohen, the plaintiffs allege in their suit, at one point discouraged Gurjar from having a child, implying work comes first. (Cohen denied he said this; he said he was talking about how he didn’t want to have children.)

When Cohen cooked meals for himself, the lawsuit alleges, he would leave dishes for Gurjar or others to clean “as though they were his personal maids.” He would allegedly mock Gurjar’s pronunciation or grammar, even though English is her second language. (Former employees said they witnessed these behaviors.) At the start of the pandemic, he allegedly said to several staffers, “Oh my god, I am so scared I am going to get the coronavirus because I have so many crazy rich Asians living in my building who keep getting packages from Korea and China!”

Cohen would shout across the open office, the complaint alleges, when displeased with Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey. The plaintiffs and former employees said in interviews that Cohen might yell at the women over a typo or an ingredient he found disgusting.

Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey allege that, for a period, Cohen exempted a White intern from taking out the trash because she was too petite to carry the large bags. But he didn’t exempt Gurjar, who at 4 feet 11 considered herself smaller than the intern. (In a statement, Cohen said the story is false: “Everyone on the team helped out by taking out the garbage, myself included.”)

When White colleagues complained about their workloads, their tasks would sometimes be shifted to Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey, the women alleged in interviews. But when they complained they were overwhelmed, they would find little relief. Worse, they said, Cohen or the Resnicks would accuse them of not being team players or “tone police” their attitudes.

In a statement, Cohen called the allegations — including that he didn’t do his own dishes — false or misleading. “I treated everyone at the Feedfeed equally and fairly and never demeaned or disparaged any of my co-workers in any way,” he said. Cohen said he regrets making the “crazy rich Asians” comment but alleges the anecdote is embellished: He invoked the movie title because Asian travelers were coming through his apartment lobby, he said, and he was scared.

Cohen, the women allege in the suit, would also brush off their complaints about Giora Stuchiner, Feedfeed’s art and experiential director until 2020, an allegation Cohen denies.

At a December 2019 Feedfeed event, the women allege, an account manager sent photos of Stuchiner’s table decorations to a sponsor who wanted to change them. The complaint alleges that Stuchiner got angry with the manager and said she should just let the client “gangbang” her. (The account manager declined to comment.)

Several current Feedfeed employees told The Post that Stuchiner never used the word “gangbang” or directed it at the account manager.

Matthew Berger, attorney for Feedfeed, said in a statement that when the Resnicks investigated the incident: “They learned that Stuchiner had actually said, ‘You’re basically letting them f--- us up the a--.' The Resnicks also learned that the employees who were present understood that Stuchiner was not making any sexual comment to the employee but instead expressing his frustration, albeit in an incredibly inappropriate manner.”

Henry-Bohoskey also alleges in the complaint that Stuchiner asked her, in front of colleagues, “Why do Black people get so offended over watermelon?” Stuchiner, who was born and raised in Israel to a South African family, said through Feedfeed’s attorney that he was “genuinely trying to understand the context of why watermelon is considered a racist trope in the United States.”

But by that point, Henry-Bohoskey said in an interview, she already had a strained relationship with Stuchiner because he had described Bushwick, where Feedfeed has an office and where Henry-Bohoskey used to live, as “sketchy” in the comments to an Instagram video. At the time, Henry-Bohoskey alleged, she told Stuchiner the remark came off as racist given the many families of color in the area. Stuchiner told The Post that he used the term “because at night I felt a little unsafe walking outside” after Feedfeed’s door had been vandalized. He said he was “referencing the industrial not residential area of Bushwick,” though he said he apologized to Henry-Bohoskey.

Henry-Bohoskey is the daughter of a mother of European descent and a Jamaican father who was deported from Japan when Henry-Bohoskey was 5. She grew up in a White family, without a Black community to help her deal with awkward racial interactions, such as Stuchiner’s question about watermelon, she told The Post.

“I felt like I was on the spot and I couldn’t not answer him,” Henry-Bohoskey said. She said she gave him a brief history on newly freed Blacks, their relationship with watermelon and how Whites stigmatized the fruit.

“I regret it to this day,” Henry-Bohoskey said about answering the question.

Former and current employees said in interviews that Cohen was a symptom of a larger problem: “Everything he did was coming from Julie and Dan,” said one former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she didn’t want to appear to be siding with Cohen.

The Resnicks founded Feedfeed in 2013 after moving to the Hamptons, they explained in a 2020 podcast, and needed ideas for preparing local produce. They found inspiration on Instagram and started posting pictures taken by Dan, then a radiologist, of meals prepared by Julie, a digital marketing executive who had attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.

Dan suggested the Feedfeed hashtag to Instagram followers as a way to organize content among cooks, influencers and bloggers. The Resnicks started sharing posts, with permission, from others who used the hashtag. After the second year, Dan said on the podcast, they had about 100,000 Instagram followers — and the number was growing fast. More than 23 million Instagram posts have now been hashtagged with #feedfeed or #thefeedfeed.

But even as Feedfeed grew — hiring staff, creating a website, opening an office in Bushwick, expanding to Los Angeles — the Resnicks rarely authorized employees on the editorial and social media side to handle day-to-day operations, several former staffers alleged in interviews. Though they work remotely, the Resnicks edit and approve photos for almost every post on the main Instagram account, often creating delays, frustrations and tears as employees wait on their comments, former employees said.

“They have never relinquished their control over the mundane,” said Molly Adams, former digital food director, who quit in September.

Berger, the Feedfeed attorney, countered that the Resnicks have fully empowered employees, including Cohen. “Jake had plenty of input into day-to-day and creative decisions,” Berger said in a statement. The Resnicks, he added, “review and approve most photos because, like any editors, they have the final say on content and seek to maintain a high level of quality.”

Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey allege in their lawsuit they were illegally deprived of overtime. In October, months after they quit and after The Post made inquiries, Feedfeed sent them checks for more than $31,000 each for unpaid overtime; The Post saw photocopies of each check.

Berger said the company disagreed with the overtime claims, but “to the extent there was any inadvertent underpayment during their employment, we wanted to make sure they were compensated.”

Former employees said in interviews that the Resnicks’ leadership could be mercurial, that editorial procedures and duties could change without warning, leaving employees feeling as if the ground was constantly shifting under their feet.

“A lot of times [Julie’s] ask would be like, ‘Can you just pull something out of thin air with all the free time that you have?,’” said Tane, who was laid off early in the pandemic.

But shifting on the fly is the nature of the digital media industry, Berger said. “Feedfeed employees have always been encouraged to speak with their supervisors and/or the Resnicks if they have concerns about their workload,” he added.

In testimonials provided by the company, some current employees praise the founders.

“Besides performing the job I was hired to do, I am allowed the space to pursue my passions, even if they are not included in my job description,” said Ty Lundy, Feedfeed’s director of events, in a statement. Lundy, who is Black, was hired in fall 2020. “The Resnicks hire people they believe in and who have the creativity and knowledge to move the company forward.”

Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey said they struggled to get the jobs they wanted. In 2019, according to the lawsuit, the owners asked Gurjar to assume some of the duties of art director, including photography and styling, without giving her the title. At least twice in 2020, Gurjar and/or Adams pushed the founders to give Gurjar the title and a raise, according to the lawsuit. In a June 2020 email to Gurjar, Julie Resnick outlined what the owners expected from an art director, and more than a month later, Julie emailed Gurjar again to say the job wasn’t available because of the pandemic. (The plaintiffs or their attorneys supplied The Post with the emails as well as recordings or other supporting materials.)

“We understand if you want to move on and find a new job as an art director at a different organization,” Julie wrote.

Likewise in 2020, according to the lawsuit, Henry-Bohoskey pushed to be social media manager, but the Resnicks said she lacked the experience. The owners then advertised the job on LinkedIn, looking for candidates with two to three years experience. After Henry-Bohoskey pointed out that she had been managing social accounts for nearly two years, she alleges in the lawsuit, the Resnicks changed the requirement to three to five years. (The Post couldn’t independently confirm the two listings.)

“Having the minimum experience on paper doesn’t make one qualified for a job,” Berger responded.

Henry-Bohoskey said in an interview that she was eventually given the job in October 2020, after she complained about a pay disparity ― thought to be more than $10,000, according to the lawsuit ― between her and a White social media manager on the production side.

Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey allege in their complaint that discrimination played a role in their slow advancement, while they watched White employees rise faster and higher. But Berger disputed that.

“Just because you try really hard at something does not necessarily mean you are qualified to be doing it,” Berger told The Post. “The company did agree to work with [Henry-Bohoskey], give her a promotion . . . with the understanding that she did not have the necessary skills yet to take over the role on her own and that she was going to need mentorship.”

As a Black woman raised in predominantly White cultures, “I just thought that White was better,” Henry-Bohoskey told The Post. But driven by the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 following George Floyd’s murder, she began reading more about systemic racism, decolonization and social justice. She started standing up for herself and for racial diversity at Feedfeed.

It didn’t always go over so well, she alleges in the complaint, such as when she told the Resnicks she felt tokenized by their desire to feature her in more videos during the protests, according to a recording shared with The Post. At the time, some people inside the company viewed Feedfeed the way former food editor Rachel Dolfi did: “I curate your Instagram for you, and your Instagram is curated for thin, White women in L.A.,” Dolfi said she told the Resnicks. (According to Berger, before the 2020 protests, the Resnicks chose content based on its quality, “regardless of the creators.”)

In a phone call that Henry-Bohoskey recorded and shared with The Post, Dan Resnick told her: “As far as the thing you mentioned about feeling tokenized, I strongly disagree with that. … Whether that was before recent events or now, we’ve never put pressure on you to create content.”

But in a June 2020 Slack conversation with Cohen and Adams, which was forwarded to The Post, Dan said that if Feedfeed believes a “non-white” person would be appropriate for a video campaign “we’re 100% within our right as a company to request that Sahara shoot it.”

“The world wants food media companies to rightfully hire more diverse staff. We have that diversity,” Dan wrote. “So why would we not be leveraging it.”

In their response, the Resnicks said that before the BLM protests, Henry-Bohoskey had never advocated for diversity in Instagram posts and had, early in 2021, discouraged a colleague from finding Black creators to feature during Black History Month because it felt “performative.”

“We are committed to supporting the BLM movement and to diversity in the content creators we promote, the staff we hire, the influencers we engage with, and the organizations and businesses we support,” the Resnicks said in their statement.

Six of Feedfeed’s current 15 employees are people of color, including two of four managers, Berger said. He added that it’s company policy now to have at least 25 percent of all content feature creators, cooks and chefs who are Black, Indigenous or people of color.

In February 2020, according to the lawsuit, Gurjar filed an internal company complaint against Cohen, alleging “bullying, unwanted conduct, nitpicking, casual workplace racism and poor management which has led to a hostile, oppressive and intimidating work environment.” The complaint provided examples of Cohen’s tone. It also mentioned his “crazy rich Asians” comment and Stuchiner’s heated exchange with the account manager, among other incidents. It was co-signed by Henry-Bohoskey, Tane and Dolfi.

The Resnicks said they issued a “final warning” to Stuchiner right after the late 2019 incident with the manager and let him go at the start of the pandemic for that incident, “other unsubstantiated allegations brought forward by Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey and other business reasons.” But in a March 18, 2020, email announcing the layoff, the Resnicks said they had made the “VERY DIFFICULT decision” based on the loss of in-person events because of the pandemic.

After Gurjar’s complaint, the owners and their attorney said they immediately interviewed supervisors and employees. (Tane and Dolfi told The Post they were never contacted.) The Resnicks said they reprimanded Cohen for his “crazy rich Asians” remark, encouraged him to adopt a “more patient management style” and planned to move Gurjar under Adams’s supervision, which occurred in June, more than three months after the internal complaint was filed.

In a recorded phone interview in spring 2020, Dan Resnick also told Gurjar “that there’s potentially a personality conflict, but that nothing Jake has done has sort of reached the level of abusive as much as a stern boss.” (The Resnicks and current employees said that Cohen could be difficult — with everyone, not just the plaintiffs.)

In their response to The Post, the Resnicks allege that Gurjar and/or Henry-Bohoskey were insensitive, disrespectful and not supportive of colleagues. They company also says the women violated company rules “by posting material on their personal social media accounts that promoted our competitors or conflicted with our sponsors” without clearance.

Whatever changes were put into place didn’t improve their working conditions, Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey said. They allege in their lawsuit that their workloads expanded as employees were laid off or left during the pandemic. But they also allege that the Resnicks became hypercritical, especially after Cohen left Feedfeed in August 2020. In an interview, Dolfi alleged that Gurjar would receive more criticism from the Resnicks on her shoots than another photographer on staff.

“It would just be so ridiculous, like asking her to source things in a pandemic that are like, ‘Do you have edible flowers? Can you find gold dust?’ Just crazy stuff,” Dolfi told The Post.

The Resnicks denied any retaliation. Any feedback the women received, the founders said, was “warranted based on their work product” and consistent with feedback from before the complaint. What’s more, the Resnicks said, both women received raises in 2020 “in recognition of their hard work,” while some other employees did not.

In December 2020, about two months after the Resnicks hired someone Gurjar thought was there partly to replace her, Gurjar said she was the only employee who didn’t receive a holiday bonus. (The Resnicks said that’s because Gurjar had received a final warning and had “repeatedly violated company policy on posting content for competitors and current clients.”)

“I was crying all the time. I was not able to eat. I was not functioning very well,” Gurjar said.

On Dec. 23, she quit. Two months later, she started as an associate food editor at Bon Appétit, which had gone through a racial reckoning in 2020.

About a month later, on Jan. 29, as Henry-Bohoskey was training the person she thought was her replacement, she also resigned, even though she was pregnant and would sacrifice state-mandated maternity leave.

“It was worth it,” she said. “I was just so miserable.”

This article has been updated to include further response from Feedfeed.

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