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A high-level female Yahoo! executive has been accused by an ex-employee of sexual harassment, including allegations she coerced the employee to have "oral and digital sex" with her.
Nan Shi, the employee who filed the sexual harassment suit, accuses Yahoo! Senior Director of Engineering Maria Zhang of forcing her to have sex with the promise of "a bright future at Yahoo!" According to the San Jose Mercury News, Shi claims Yahoo! eventually fired her after she reported the abuse.
What does Shi's lawsuit claim about this female Yahoo! exec?
The narrative which Shi tells in her lawsuit is a shocking one. According to her suit, Zhang and Shi had moved to Sunnyvale when their company had been purchased by Yahoo! in 2013. Shi had allegedly been working under Zhang at her old company and told she to move into "a temporary Yahoo! housing unit in Sunnyvale," reports the Mercury News.
While in temporary housing, Shi claims that Zhang "coerced [her] to have oral and digital sex with her on multiple occasions against her will." With the claims of forcible sex against Zhang, the incident sounds more like rape than sexual harassment. Then again, Shi claims that Zhang her entire future hang in the balance of the sexual encounter(s), which seems very much like quid pro quo harassment.
The Mercury News reports that Shi never reported the assaults to the police because she feared the end of her career.
In addition to her sexual harassment claims, Shi also claims Yahoo! did nothing to stop the harassment. Quite the opposite, her suit alleges that she was placed on unpaid leave and eventually given the ax due to her refusing Zhang's advances.
Even small gestures and workplace socializing can give rise to illegal workplace retaliation when a complaint is filed, but termination is a glaring red flag. Shi's wrongful termination claim is really an extension of the sexual harassment allegations, claiming she was terminated in retaliation for refusing Zhang's advances and reporting them.
Whether or not Shi's allegations are true, this shows just how essential it is for employers to properly address and investigate sexual harassment complaints brought by employees. Failure to do so may expose a company to liability if the complaining employee is terminated shortly thereafter -- even if the termination really had nothing to do with the complaint.
For Yahoo!'s part, the Mercury News reports that the company believes the allegations against Zhang are baseless and that they will "fight vigorously to clear her name."
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