The former vice president of sales and marketing at Rivian Automotive Inc. filed a lawsuit against her former employer alleging a culture that discriminates against women. When she complained, she was abruptly fired.
The suit was filed on Nov. 4 in a California Superior Court in Orange County. A statement of claims was also filed with the American Arbitration Association.
This lawsuit is just the latest example of how inequities are still alive and well in many workplaces. Discriminatory practices minimize the value of the employee – whether the discrimination is due to gender, race, religion, disability, or other protected status.
Textbook Pattern of Gender Bias
Laura Schwab said that she was marginalized at Rivian Automotive Inc., a startup working to bring an electric pickup truck to consumers. She was routinely excluded from meetings where she should have been invited to attend. This exclusion made it more difficult for her to be as effective in her role. Additionally, the company’s chief growth officer would make decisions about her team with input from men on other teams.
Her opinions about company operations were dismissed. She believed the assertion that the company would produce 1,000 electric vehicles by the end of 2021 was not possible and the production process needed refinement. Her concerns went ignored or were considered only after a man later expressed the same opinion.
Punished for Speaking Up
Schwab said she was fired from Rivian in October after complaining to human resources. In an article she posted on Medium, she said, “I raised concerns to HR about the gender discrimination from my manager, the “boys club” culture, and the impact it was having on me, my team, and the company. Two days later, my boss fired me.”
According to the court filing, the electric truck maker allegedly violated California’s labor code, harmed her reputation, and caused emotional pain. Rivian is headquartered in Irvine, CA.
Like any other firing, Schwab’s termination hurt her financially. Her employment package was a $360,000 base salary, a 40% bonus, a six-digit sign-on bonus, a five-figure monthly stipend. Perhaps the biggest financial loss is the $1.5 million in equity in unrestricted stock units. Rivian is expected to have its initial public offering (IPO) this month.
Schwab is suing for compensation based on unlawful discrimination and retaliation.
Retaliation Is Most Common EEOC Complaint
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that the agency received 67,448 workplace discrimination charges in Fiscal Year 2020 (Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020). Almost one-third of the cases involved gender-based discrimination. The agency also responded to more than 470,000 calls to its toll-free number.
The breakdown of workplace discrimination charges are below. The percentages add up to more than 100% because some charges allege more than one discriminatory event:
- Retaliation: 37,632 (55.8 percent of all charges filed)
- Disability: 24,324 (36.1 percent)
- Race: 22,064 (32.7 percent)
- Sex: 21,398 (31.7 percent)
- Age: 14,183 (21.0 percent)
- National Origin: 6,377 (9.5 percent)
- Color: 3,562 (5.3 percent)
- Religion: 2,404 (3.6 percent)
- Equal Pay Act: 980 (1.5 percent)
- Genetic Information: 440 (0.7 percent)
At Shellist Lazarz Slobin, we focus on labor and employment cases including discrimination, wrongful termination, unpaid overtime, and more. Contact us online or call (713) 352-3433 if you are experiencing unlawful treatment at work.
California Labor Laws
There are several differences between California and federal employment laws. Federal law identifies overtime as working more than 40 hours in a week while California labor laws allow for daily overtime as well. California’s minimum wage is now $14 ($13 for companies with 25 or fewer employees), compared to $7.25 under federal law. It’s also more challenging for an employee to be classified as exempt in The Golden State.
The state’s workplace discrimination laws are more comprehensive than those at the federal level.
Protected classes in California include the following:
- National Origin
- Sex (Including Transgender Status, Sexual Orientation, Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Related Medical Conditions)
- Disability: Physical or Mental
- Age (40 and older)
- Genetic Information
- Gender Expression
- Gender Identity
- Marital Status
- Medical Condition
- Military/Veteran Status
- Political Activities/Affiliations
- Sexual Orientation
- Status as a Victim of Domestic Violence, Assault, or Stalking
California's antidiscrimination laws apply to companies with five or more employees. Federal law applies to employers with at least 15 employees (20 employees in age discrimination cases).
Other states and individual cities have passed regulations that exceed the minimum protections established at the federal level.
Experienced Employment Lawyers in California
If you believe you are a victim of workplace discrimination, contact our experienced team at Shellist Lazarz Slobin. We have offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Houston, but work with clients from coast to coast. We have extensive experience at the state and federal levels in a variety of complex employment and labor cases.