Sen. Elizabeth Warren didn’t wait long at Tuesday’s debate before challenging former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on his history with women.
The senator told a story she’s told before — that at the age of 21, she lost her job after her boss discovered she was pregnant.
But this time, she added something else: “At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, ‘Kill it,’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said.”
She was talking about allegations by Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a former employee at Bloomberg’s company, Bloomberg LP. In a 1998 lawsuit, Garrison said that when she told Bloomberg she was pregnant, he told her to “kill it.”
When Garrison asked him to repeat himself, he said it again: “kill it.” Then, according to her suit, he mumbled, “Great! Number 16!” — a reference to the number of women at his company who were pregnant or on maternity leave.
Bloomberg has denied the allegation, and he denied it again Tuesday night, saying, “When I was accused of doing it, we couldn’t figure out what she was talking about.” But earlier this month, another former Bloomberg employee, David Zielenziger, told the Washington Post that he also heard the comment.
“I remember she had been telling some of her girlfriends that she was pregnant,” Zielenziger said. “And Mike came out and I remember he said, ‘Are you going to kill it?’ And that stopped everything. And I couldn’t believe it.”
Tuesday night wasn’t the first time Warren called out Bloomberg on the debate stage over women’s allegations of sexism at Bloomberg LP. And since their first back-and-forth on the subject at the Nevada debate, he has agreed to release some former employees from nondisclosure agreements signed as part of settlements in discrimination suits. But if his responses during Tuesday night are any guide, he has yet to fully reckon with the allegations against him and his company.
The “kill it” comments are one of many allegations against Bloomberg and his company
Garrison’s suit was one of nearly 40 lawsuits filed against Bloomberg LP between 1996 and 2016, as Business Insider reported last year. Most of those lawsuits involved discrimination on the basis of gender, race, disability status, or pregnancy.
In addition to the “kill it” comments, Garrison alleges in her suit that Bloomberg made a litany of sexist and racist comments over the years. At one point, Garrison says, the then-CEO asked her, “You still dating your boyfriend? You giving him good blow jobs?” When he found out that another female employee was having a hard time finding a nanny, he responded that “it’s a fucking baby” and that “all you need is some black who doesn’t even have to speak English to rescue it from a burning building,” according to the suit.
She also said that after she complained about the “kill it” comments, Bloomberg “directed” her firing. Bloomberg ultimately settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum and denied the allegations. In his testimony in the case, he said, “I never said those words and there would be no reason to do so, it’s ridiculous and an outrage.”
In addition to the suits themselves, Bloomberg has faced criticism around his refusal to release women from nondisclosure agreements they signed as part of settlements in their lawsuits. The Me Too movement has helped bring to light the ways such agreements can be used to essentially buy women’s silence, and advocacy groups have pushed other companies to release former employees from NDAs. NBC, for example, has agreed to do so, but only if former employees contact the company first.
Warren called the former mayor to account on the issue at the Nevada debate. “What we need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there,” she said. “He has gotten some number of women — dozens, who knows — to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.”
Then, last Friday, Bloomberg announced that his company had identified three women who had signed NDAs related to allegations of comments by Bloomberg, and said that the company would release them from their agreements if they wished, as Vox’s Emily Stewart reported.
“I recognize that NDAs, particularly when they are used in the context of sexual harassment and sexual assault, promote a culture of silence in the workplace and contribute to a culture of women not feeling safe or supported,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
But Warren argued on Tuesday that this wasn’t sufficient. “If he says there is nothing to hide here, then sign a blanket release and let those women speak out so that they can tell their stories,” she said.
Bloomberg sounded petulant in his response. “The trouble is, with this senator, enough is never enough,” he complained, before boasting that, “we did what she asked, and, thank you, we probably made the world better because of it. And by my company renouncing using these, we probably changed, hopefully, the corporate landscape all across America.”
Bloomberg also seemed to minimize the allegations brought by Garrison and others. “Nobody accused me of anything other than making a comment or two,” he said.
But telling a pregnant person to “kill it” or using racist language about someone’s child care situation aren’t just “a comment or two” — these are serious allegations of discrimination that deserve a serious response. At least at the debates so far, Bloomberg hasn’t seemed inclined to give one.