In the spring of 2017, Rachel Moore went straight from her Stanford University MBA to a job in Palo Alto artificial intelligence startup Pilot AI Labs. But shortly after she was hired, she claimed in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, she was subjected to “crude and graphic” sexual harassment by the company’s founders.
Pilot AI Labs, which sells artificially intelligent algorithms, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Early in her employment as a director of product for the company, she alleged in the suit, Pilot’s co-founder and chief technology officer Robert English, who goes by “Elliot,” appeared to be testing Moore’s tolerance for the “sexually charged office culture.” He commented on her buttocks and made a sexual remark about her boots, she alleged. He and CEO Jonathan Su, both Stanford PhDs, would talk in front of Moore, 24, about English’s sexual exploits, and Su told her no woman English had sex with was left “unsatisfied,” she claimed.
Even using office equipment was fraught, she alleged: A server she was supposed to work on was named after a sex act.
“On one occasion, English told (Moore) that he participated in an anal sex workshop at Burning Man led by a famous porn star,” she claimed, adding that she was told male employees viewed pornography in the office and “designated the server area for masturbation.”
When she didn’t reciprocate in the sexual talk, English and Su “tended to ignore her and not take her seriously,” she alleged in the suit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court against Pilot and its founders.
She figured if she were to be accepted as “part of the team,” she’d have to participate in the sexual commentaries, she claimed. She started to engage, “on a very limited basis,” with the sexually charged talk, she said in the suit. Her relationship to the firm’s executives improved immediately “and she was suddenly given a $20,000 raise,” she alleged.
“They began taking her more seriously and including her in more in important projects and (she) became one of their ‘buddies.'”
She said she drew a line when English, a former post-doctoral scholar at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, would comment on her body — she would not reciprocate, not wanting to give him the idea she might be interested in him, the suit claimed.
And the harassment escalated, she alleged. In December, English called her into his office, shut the door and took off his pants, she claimed. Moore said she was uncomfortable, told him his behavior was “harassment,” and asked to leave the room, but English “would not let her” and began talking about his ex-girlfriend’s faults, she claimed.
Her rejection of this “sexual advance” by English led to immediate retaliation, she claimed. Her reports to Su, a veteran of Microsoft and eBay, were “dismissed,” and English and Su yelled at her, left her out of important meetings, transferred her duties to a less-senior male product manager, and assigned her “trivial and meaningless tasks” such as arranging conference room chairs and “being a stenographer,” she alleged.
Moore “started to be criticized for things like not taking good notes, being ‘too emotional,’ not being a good enough ‘cheerleader,’ and not being understanding enough of English’s sexual frustrations,” the suit alleged.
When Moore insisted on making a documented complaint about English removing his pants, Su told her he’d taken down her complaint in writing, but he did nothing to stop the harassment or retaliation, she claimed.
“Instead, the retaliation … only intensified to the point at which her ability to perform her basic job duties was seriously impaired,” she alleged.
“What had once seemed like a promising career now appeared to be in jeopardy for no reason other than (that she) did not want to have a sexual relationship with one of the company’s founders and did not want to play along with the sexual banter,” the suit alleged.
In March, Moore met with Su and he insisted that she go on a dinner date with English because that “was the only way for the two of them to repair the relationship between them,” she claimed. She agreed, thinking she had no other choice, but later backed out, she said in the suit.
“She simply did not feel safe being alone with English, let alone on a dinner date away from the office, even if it meant she would be terminated,” the suit said.
Soon she was told her complaint would be investigated, but the firm that oversaw the probe was Pilot’s primary investor and the investigation was “an utter sham and a cover up,” she claimed. The man who led the probe corroborated most of Moore’s complaints, including English taking off his pants, but concluded there had been nothing sexual about his partial undressing, she alleged.
Moore was granted a leave of absence before the investigation started, and received another short leave afterward, she said in the suit. But when she asked for a third leave, she was ignored, as were her attempts to find out the status of her employment, she alleged.
Pilot stopped paying her and cut off her access to company computer systems, and she was left with the belief that she had been fired around the end of April, she said in the suit.
Moore is seeking unspecified damages.