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CMEA Capital Sued For Sexual Harassment

Related Lawyers: Christopher L. Lebsock
Related Practice Areas: Civil and Human Rights

Venture capital firm CMEA Capital has been sued for sexual harassment, retaliation and failure to prevent harassment by three former female employees, raising the issue of gender in the venture capital industry once again.

Three former executive assistants allege in the Feb 7. filing in San Francisco Superior Court that John Haag, who was president and chief operating partner of the San Francisco firm, “behaved in sexually and racially inappropriate ways.”

The case is the latest accusation of sexual misconduct in the workplace in the venture capital and tech industry and raises questions about the extent of the issue in the industry. Last month, Square COO Keith Rabois resigned after threats of a sexual harassment suit. He denied the charges and was later hired by Khosla Ventures. Last May, junior partner Ellen Pao sued the famed venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, alleging gender discrimination and retaliation. That suit, still ongoing, was the talk of the startup and venture capital community, raising questions about the relative lack of women in venture capital and in technology more generally. Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr strongly denied the charges.

The 17-page complaint against CMEA makes numerous specific allegations of sexually explicit behavior and comments toward the three female plaintiffs, as well as other female employees of the firm. It also alleges a lack of management response to stop Haag, as well as retaliation by Haag or the firm. A case management date for the case is scheduled for July 10 to set a trial date in the case, Dawn-Shemain Weeks, et al. v. CMEA Development Co. LLC.

Haag has since left CMEA. His attorney Marcie Isom of Gordon & Rees LLP said in a statement: “John Haag looks forward to the truth coming out in the course of this lawsuit. He is prepared to defend himself vigorously and trusts the justice system will vindicate him absolutely. Because this matter is in active litigation, Mr. Haag cannot offer further comment.”

CMEA directed inquiries to the firm’s attorney Lara Villarreal Hutner. “CMEA denies any wrongdoing whatsoever,” she said. She also said the lawsuit is the result of the three women’s decrease in overtime pay, not sexual harassment.

The three women, Dawn-Shemain Weeks, Margaret Hines and Shannon Schlagenhauf, are represented by the law firm Hausfeld. Their attorney, Christopher Lebsock, said there was ongoing sexually inappropriate behavior at the firm. “It was not simply a statement taken in isolation,” Lebsock said. “If you look at the overall context of the way this company was operating, there was a total disregard for what the law required. It manifested itself in a lot of ways. You had statements that were obviously sexual in nature and inappropriate. You have bullying and intimidation-type behavior.”

Lebsock said Haag was well aware that his behavior was not appropriate. “There’s this idea that Haag would reach out to one (woman) and ask if it was okay what he was saying to another (woman). So there’s the suggestion that he knew exactly what he was saying but he needed to bring in others into his conduct and they would tell him, ‘No.’ I’m not quite sure what to make of it. These women were very intimidated by it. We look forward to hearing it at trial.”

For the complete article regarding this case, please click here.

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