A former WeWork employee says she was assaulted on two separate occasions by her colleagues at work events, according to a new lawsuit filed against the $20 billion coworking company.
Ruby Anaya, 33, is suing the company and its co-founder, Miguel McKelvey, as was first reported by NBC. The suit claims that a company-wide “frat-boy culture” of hard partying enabled the assaults to take place and go unchecked. A spokesperson for WeWork issued a statement to Recode denying all allegations.
This lawsuit isn’t the first time WeWork has been accused of being permissive of a drinking-heavy culture that’s turned off some female professionals. As the company has grown, it’s made moves that have helped tame that image — such as leading a $32 million funding round in female-led coworking space and social club The Wing — but the allegations raised in Anaya’s suit, if true, could set the company back.
This current suit alleges that Anaya, a New York-based former director of culture for WeWork, was assaulted at a booze-filled company-wide event in January 2018 when a male employee grabbed her by the waist and forcibly kissed her. She pushed the man off and slapped him, but he “just smiled at her” and continued partying, the lawsuit states.
On a separate occasion, a different employee grabbed Anaya from behind in a “sexual manner” at WeWork’s annual “Summer Camp” retreat for its employees in August 2017, according to the suit.
After reporting the incidents to HR and receiving what the lawsuit alleges was an inadequate response, Anaya contacted co-founder McKelvey directly about the January incident, the suit claims, but McKelvey never replied.
In both cases, the employees accused of assaulting Anaya told HR they were too drunk to remember the incidents, according to the lawsuit. Both men involved in the alleged assaults are still employed by WeWork, according to the suit.
Anaya was terminated shortly after she voiced her concern about the inadequate response from management over the incidents, the suit claims.
WeWork has built its name in part based on a youthful, work-hard, play-hard brand — offering tenants of its office space perks like free beer on tap and happy hour events.
“The sexual harassment and assaults of [Anaya] did not happen in a vacuum,” the suit states. “They are the product in part of the entitled, frat-boy culture that permeates WeWork from the top down.”
WeWork denied all claims brought forth by Anaya, and in an emailed statement to Recode a spokesperson for the company wrote that Anaya “received negative performance reviews” and was “rated as one of the lowest performers on her team.”
“These claims against WeWork are meritless and we will fight this lawsuit,” wrote the spokesperson. “WeWork investigated this employee’s complaints, took appropriate action, and this employee was terminated solely because of her poor performance. ... Upon being terminated, she acknowledged her poor performance and that she hadn’t been showing up to work regularly. She even expressed concerns about her performance to a colleague shortly before her termination.”
Anaya’s lawyer, Seth Rafkin, denied that his client was fired based on her performance.
“[I]f our client had been a poor performer for a long time, why didn’t WeWork ever give her a warning or a performance plan, something human resources professionals will tell you is typical practice? And why did the decision to fire her come only after she complained again about a sexual assault and the way it was handled?” he wrote in an email to Recode.
WeWork has seen a meteoric rise from renting out office space to budget-conscious entrepreneurs in New York to becoming the fastest growing coworking firm in the world — and is reportedly in talks to raise a new round of funding of as much as $20 billion from investors.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.