In a federal complaint, a former chief of staff to Mr. Neumann said she was demoted twice after she became pregnant.
When the chief of staff to the WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann became pregnant in March 2016, she was reluctant to share the news with her boss right away.
But ultimately, the employee, Medina Bardhi, felt she had no choice. She had to explain that she could no longer accompany Mr. Neumann on business trips âdue to his penchant for bringing marijuana on chartered flights and smoking it throughout the flight while in an enclosed cabin,â according to a complaint she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York on Thursday.
What followed, the complaint said, was a pattern of discrimination, as Ms. Bardhi was repeatedly derided and marginalized by Mr. Neumann and other WeWork officials. Mr. Neumann referred to her maternity leave as a âvacationâ or âretirement,â according to the complaint, and another high-level company official, Jennifer Berrent, commented, âWow, youâre getting big,â in front of a WeWork executive.
Mr. Neumann, who had promised to champion women at WeWork, stepped down as the companyâs chief executive in September as its attempted initial public offering collapsed in dramatic fashion. As part of a deal to turn over control of WeWork to its largest outside investor, SoftBank, he received $185 million to work as a consultant to the company for four years.
Over the last year, other women, including a senior executive, have filed lawsuits accusing WeWork of gender discrimination. Their complaints have added to the storm of criticism WeWork and Mr. Neumann have faced from bankers, analysts and current and former employees since the attempt to go public failed. Mr. Neumannâs leadership has come under particularly intense scrutiny: He has been criticized for maintaining a lavish lifestyle and giving outsize power to family members, including his wife, Rebekah.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Neumann declined to comment, referring questions to WeWork. In a statement, a WeWork spokeswoman, Gwen Rocco, said the company âintends to vigorously defend itself againstâ the complaint.
âWe have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind,â Ms. Rocco said. âWe are committed to moving the company forward and building a company and culture that our employees can be proud of.â
During her five years at WeWork, Ms. Bardhi became pregnant twice and was demoted both times, the complaint said. She was fired in early October, shortly after Mr. Neumann left, according to the complaint. Company executives told her that âthere was no longer a role for her after Mr. Neumannâs departure,â the complaint said.
âThis assertion and supposed justification rings hollow, as Ms. Bardhi already had been pushed out of Mr. Neumannâs office,â the complaint said. âIt is clear that Ms. Bardhiâs firing was motivated by the Companyâs sustained discriminatory bias and retaliatory animus against her and other female employees who become pregnant, take maternity leave, and/or complain about gender-based discrimination.â
The complaint also said that WeWork had a broader culture of abuse and disrespect toward women â a work environment in which excessive alcohol consumption fueled âoffensive sexual conductâ and women were routinely paid less than male colleagues with similar jobs.
Ms. Bardhiâs lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, said he hoped that the E.E.O.C. would view her experiences as part of a systemic problem at the company and bring class-action charges against WeWork.
The discrimination Ms. Bardhi faced began before she even started at WeWork, the complaint said. During a job interview in October 2013, Mr. Neumann âunlawfully and intrusivelyâ asked Ms. Bardhi whether she planned to get married or become pregnant â a question that left her âstunned and uncomfortable,â according to the complaint.
When Ms. Bardhi became pregnant three years later, the complaint said, Mr. Neumann replaced her with a male employee who was paid more than twice as much.
Then, rather than restoring her to the job of chief of staff when she returned from maternity leave, the complaint said, the company gave her no clear direction on her day-to-day responsibilities.
Eventually, she got the job back, the complaint said. But when she became pregnant a second time in February 2018, the cycle repeated â a male employee was hired to replace her, and she found herself sidelined wh