Rivian Sued By Former Executive Over Gender Discrimination, Alleged ‘Toxic Bro Culture’: News

Laura Schwab describes how "exclusion became a pattern" in a recent Medium post

Rivian’s manufacturing facility in Illinois. The fledgling automaker now faces a discrimination lawsuit alleging rampant marginalization within the company.

Laura Schwab says Rivian fired her after she approached Human Resources with gender discrimination concerns.

The former 20-year industry veteran and Rivian executive filed a lawsuit against her former employer this week, and came forward via a Medium post, laying out the details of what she describes as a “boys’ club” and “bro culture” affecting important decisions within the startup, and engaging in blatant discrimination against women within the company.

According to the complaint filed Thursday in an Orange County, California Superior Court, Rivian violated the state’s labor code through its alleged discrimination. Furthermore, the company’s decision to fire her results in “unlawful conduct [that] also cost Ms. Schwab millions of dollars in unvested equity on the eve of the company’s IPO.” Case documents notes discriminatory treatment on the part of Rivian’s Chief Growth (Commercial) Officer Jiten Behl, who fired Schwab last month, two days after she decided to report the hostile environment to Human Resources.

Schwab’s attorneys also filed a statement of claims with the American Arbitration Association on Thursday, as Bloomberg notes in their report.

Laura Schwab — former Rivian and Aston Martin executive
Laura Schwab worked with Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover, before joining Rivian last year.

Schwab lays out her claims against Rivian

“The culture at Rivian was carefully cultivated, but not in the manner it was advertised,” she said in her Medium blog post. “Rivian in many ways resembled other automotive companies, dominated by men at the top; however, the most striking difference between Rivian and the other companies where I had worked was a lack of automotive experience among the other executives.”

Prior to Rivian in November 2020, Schwab spent five years as president of Aston Martin Lagonda, and also fulfilled executive roles at Jaguar Land Rover.

Further on, she notes that she was not the only executive allegedly left out of crucial conversations:

“Exclusion became a pattern, and I was left out of countless meetings where business needs and my role dictate that I should have been present. I thought that my years of experience and my deep knowledge and expertise had earned me a spot at the table, but at Rivian it did not.

…Finally, I asked another female senior executive to please include me in meetings regarding sales planning and volumes, which were key to my work leading the sales and marketing organization. I was stunned when she informed me that she was also excluded from these meetings, which were key to her role as well.

It is unbelievable that two high-level female executives would be left out of these meetings directly impacting their work. This was not the culture Rivian prided itself on, and I realized that to change it I needed to raise my voice.”

Laura Schwab, via Medium

Rivian, for its part, declined to comment, citing a “quiet period” leading up to the company’s stock market launch. Later this month, the Amazon-backed company plans an initial public offering with a value close to $60 billion.

Rivian R1T

The larger, cross-industry issue

Lawsuits alleging toxic culture and gender discrimination are drawing scrutiny toward corporations across industries — not just in the automotive sector. In July 2021, California’s Department of Fair Employment and housing lodged a highly-publicized complaint against gaming company Activision Blizzard. That lawsuit alleged a “frat boy” culture, wherein male executives regularly discriminated against, and in some cases sexually harassed, female employees.

In direct response, employees came forward with their own stories within the multi-billion dollar enterprise, and pressured the firm to make substantial changes. So far, CEO Bobby Kotick pledged comprehensive changes, while corporate affairs executive vice president Fran Townsend noted at least 20 people have “exited” the company following internal investigations.

Despite its lack of official comment at this moment, Rivian will almost certainly respond to the lawsuit in due time — we’ll publish a follow-up when that happens.