Kris Duggan looms large in Silicon Valley, serving as an adjunct professor at the Ray Kurzweil-founded Singularity University, and according to his Crunchbase profile, holds advisory positions with nine different companies including the secretive Palantir Technologies. Duggan is best known for co-founding BetterWorks in 2013, which has since sopped up a generous $35 million in venture capital funding from, amongst others, Kleiner-Perkins. And like an increasing number of rich, powerful executives, Duggan is now stepping down as CEO of his company after being accused of inappropriate workplace conduct by a female employee—the bitter irony being that BetterWorks makes software for—wait for it—Human Resources.
The lawsuit, filed July 11, names Duggan as well as Regional Vice President Matt Hart and Vice President of People Operations Tamara Cooksey, and alleges sexual harassment, discriminatory behavior, negligent hiring, and four other complaints of the exact variety a company involved in human resources should understand the gravity of.
Here are a few selections from the suit:
“the workplace had more in common with a boy’s club or fraternity house than a professional work environment”
“[leadership] would make jokes and comments about rape and women’s body parts”
“[CEO] said: ‘tell recruiting we need to hire more boobies’”
“[CEO] was very drunk. Later, plaintiff observed [CEO] with his arm wrapped around a young, female employee... his arm moving up and down in an inappropriately affectionate way.”
“He began dancing with a female employee while violently chest-bumping her repeatedly until she fell down.”
The filing goes on to describe homophobic comments made by upper management, bosses pressuring employees not to lodge formal complaints, and a particularly upsetting dry-humping incident at a company retreat allegedly performed by Duggan himself on the plaintiff, Beatrice Kim, despite repeated requests to stop.
Allegations of the Silicon Valley elite creating untenable environments for—or outright harassing—their workforces have become numbingly commonplace: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Thinx CEO Miki Agrawl, investors Chris Sacca and Dave McClure, and Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck are just a fraction of those in the broader tech industry alleged to have acted inappropriately in recent memory. There are more (who could forget UploadVR’s “kink room”?) and the sense these complaints have increased lately does less to suggest that CEOs have gotten worse than it speaks to a pattern of abuse among the wealthy and powerful that their subordinates are finally comfortable speaking about publicly.
Many of the familiar names above all stepped down from their stewardships after the controversies they caused threatened to overshadow the businesses themselves. According to a press release furnished on BetterWorks’s behalf by Sard Verbinnen & Co—the crisis PR firm BetterWorks has retained—Duggan only plans to reduce his role to that of President, serving as Acting CEO until a replacement is found. A source familiar with the c-suit shuffle described it as a way to mitigate the distraction caused by the lawsuit.
The statement does not address the lawsuit, but does provide as company background that BetterWorks assists AOL, BMW, Kroger, GoPro, Sony Music and Schneider Electric, all of which are likely seeking HR solutions that aren’t tied to toxic HR issues.