Magic Leap sued for sex discrimination by woman hired to increase diversity
A former female Magic Leap executive, who says she was hired to make the augmented reality startup "less of a boys club," has sued the tech company for unlawful sex discrimination.
The suit also alleges that the hostile work environment has lead to dysfunction, causing the company to miss deadlines. Tannen Campbell filed the suit earlier this week in US District Court in the southern district of Florida.
Campbell says that chief executive Rony Abovitz hired her in April 2015 as head of strategic marketing and brand identity to help improve gender diversity at Magic Leap and make its in-development augmented reality product more female-friendly.
Magic Leap is a much-buzzed about tech firm, with lead investors such as Alibaba, Google and Qualcomm.
In June 2016, Magic Leap announced a new partnership with Lucasfilm, focusing on AR games based on the studio's franchises such as Star Wars.
Magic Leap did not return request for comment on the case.
In her first few months on the job, Campbell said she prepared a presentation on the company's gender problem - noting that no women were in leadership position at the company and only 14 per cent of employees were women - and offering solutions including recruiting employees from colleges with strong female STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) departments.
At the July 2015 meeting when Campbell made her presentation, Abovitz arrived late and ended the meeting before she finished, she says in the suit.
After three subsequent attempts to meet with Abovitz to show him the rest of the presentation, she "got the message and gave up," she says.
Campbell was then enlisted as part of a subsequent "female brain trust initiative," to provide design changes to Magic Leap's headset meant to make the product better appeal to women, she says.
Among suggestions: a new way to attach the "belt pack" since women rarely wear belts. "The group made no decisions and none of the proposed changes were made to the design," she alleges. "It was window dressing."
Magic Leap tolerated sexist comments and attitudes in the workplace, she alleges.
As an example, she cited the misogynistic nature of one of the apps expected to ship with the headset, a "Dr G," game with no female lead characters, but one in the game's back story, "a busty woman depicted on her knees" grovelling at the hero's feet.
Women in technology have feared that the burgeoning virtual reality and AR development areas might grow to be as male-dominated at the video game development and the overall tech industry.
In her job interview, Campbell says that Abovitz, told her "he wanted his company to be different, and asked (her) if she could help with that."
However, Campbell alleges, the corporate atmosphere "literally, prevented (her) from doing the job she was hired to do or achieving the goals she and Abovitz had discussed during her initial interview: helping with the 'pink/blue problem' or making Magic Leap less of a 'boys club'."