Ex-WeWork CEO accused of gender discrimination, smoking pot in front of pregnant staffer

Key Points
  • Adam Neumann's former chief of staff is suing The We Company for allegedly sustaining a substantial gender pay gap, among other accusations.
  • The suit alleges Neumann asked the former employee about her plans to get pregnant during a 2013 job interview and repeatedly called her maternity leave a "vacation."
  • A spokesperson says, "WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim."
Adam Neumann, CEO of WeWork.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

Adam Neumann now faces a new legal challenge even after being ousted as CEO from WeWork.

Neumann's former chief of staff is suing The We Company for allegedly sustaining a substantial gender pay gap, smoking marijuana in front of her and discriminating against her and other women for becoming pregnant and taking maternity leave, among other allegations.

The complaint, which was filed Thursday, alleges that former WeWork employee Medina Bardhi received significantly lower pay than her male peers.

According to the lawsuit, a new male hire for the chief of staff position with the "same job scope and role" as Bardhi's "was offered an annual salary of $400,000 with a $175,000 signing bonus payable in January 2017, far more than double the annual salary of $150,000 that Ms. Bardhi was being paid in the same job."

Neumann also allegedly asked Bardhi about her plans to get married and become pregnant during her October 2013 interview, according to the lawsuit, and later referred to her maternity leave as a "vacation" on multiple occasions.

The complaint also alleges Bardhi was "forced" to tell her boss about her pregnancy "because she knew she had to explain why she could no longer accompany Mr. Neumann on business travel, particularly due to his penchant for bringing marijuana on chartered flights and smoking it throughout the flight while in the enclosed cabin." The suit alleges that Neuman smoked marijuana on a private flight in front of Bardhi a week before she told him she was pregnant.

A WeWork spokesperson said in a statement, "WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim. We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. We are committed to moving the company forward and building a company and culture that our employees can be proud of."

WeWork has had a tumultuous few months since releasing its IPO prospectus in August, which revealed a net loss of more than $900 million for the first six months of the year on revenues of $1.54 billion. The prospectus was mocked by analysts for its flowery statements such as its mission "to elevate the world's consciousness."

Ultimately, WeWork halted its plans to go public amid the outcry over its losses and corporate governance. Analysts took issue with Neumann's unorthodox practices, including selling the "We" trademark to his own business for $5.9 million (which he later returned) and involving multiple family members in the business.

WeWork was valued at $47 billion in its last private funding round, but according to its new deal with SoftBank to take control of the business, WeWork is now valued between $7.5 billion and $8 billion on a prefunding basis. As part of that financing, Neumann will get up to $1.7 billion to walk away from the company. 

"It is astonishing that WeWork could reward Adam Neumann's blatant sexist behavior with a staggering and unprecedented golden parachute worth over a reported $1 Billion," said Douglas Wigdor, Bardhi's lawyer, in an emailed statement. He said his hope is that this complaint "will send a loud and clear message to WeWork and other startups that pregnant women cannot be forced out of their jobs, that women must be paid fairly and afforded equal opportunities, and that you cannot retaliate against any person who voices a complaint of discrimination."

— CNBC's Laura Batchelor contributed to this report.

WATCH: WeWork and ex-CEO Neumann accused of pregnancy discrimination

WeWork and ex-CEO Neumann accused of pregnancy discrimination