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VR Unicorn Sued IRL for Sex Discrimination

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 15, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unicorns, at least in venture capital circles are very real. Defined as a startup that hasn't actually brought a product to market, yet is somehow valued at more than $1 billion, unicorns have real employees, and thus real employee problems. And Magic Leap, "one of the most well-funded startups of all time," looks like it has more real problems than most.

Tannen Campbell, Magic Leap's former Head and Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Brand Identity who was hired to make the company and its products more female-friendly, is now suing the company, claiming "hostile environment sex discrimination and retaliation." Her lawsuit is a laundry list of inappropriate comments, behavior, and sexual stereotypes in the tech industry, and even includes some discussion of wizards.

Women in the Workplace

Campbell's central claim is that she was brought in to fix Magic Leap's toxic corporate culture and male-centered product line, yet she was another victim of that culture and was undercut by superiors and employees alike:

Campbell, one of whose responsibilities was to help Magic Leap with the "pink/blue problem," had to endure hostile environment sex discrimination while proposing ways, not only to make Magic Leap's product more woman friendly, but also to make the workplace more diverse and inclusive. Campbell was terminated after (and because) she, like the child in "The Emperor's New Clothes" who blurted out that the Emperor was naked, challenged Magic Leap's CEO, Rony Abovitz, to acknowledge the depths of misogyny in Magic Leap's culture and take steps to correct an gender imbalance that negatively affects the company's core culture and renders it so dysfunctional it continues to delay the launch of a product that attracted billions of investment dollars.

There's a lot to unpack there, so let's go to some of the highlights of Campbell's lawsuit. Although Campbell was tasked to put together a presentation about gender diversity in the workplace, the meeting was scheduled and cancelled six times. When it finally did happen, Abovitz allegedly arrived late and ended the meeting early. And when Abovitz put a team of female employees together to make Magic Leap's product more woman friendly, none of the ideas from the indelicately named "Female Brain Trust Initiative" were taken seriously.

And there was also that time during a training session when a male IT support lead told new female hires, "In IT we have a saying; stay away from the Three Os: Orientals, Old People and Ovaries."

Work in the Workplace

Campbell also said she was fired partially because she "raised concerns that what Magic Leap showed the public in marketing material was not what the product actually could do." These concerns, like others, were ignored she claims, with male colleagues asserting "the images and videos presented on Magic Leap's website and on YouTube were 'aspirational,' and not Magic Leap's version of 'alternate facts.'"

And, as New York Magazine points out, the actual product that Magic Leap is planning to produce someday has been far from problematic, saying there are "reports Magic Leap has seriously oversold what its products can really do, that the company is hustling to get a prototype ready in time for an upcoming board meeting, and that time Beyoncé was shown a demo and was 'bored' by it."

Wizards in the Workplace

Seriously -- wizards. We can't say it any better than Campbell's lawsuit, so:

For example, unlike virtually every employer with a website, the Magic Leap website nowhere states that it is an equal opportunity employer and wants women to be among the "Wizards" it is seeking in the "Wizards Wanted" section of its website. Indeed, given that a "wizard" generally is defined as "a man who has magical powers," and virtually without exception images of wizards are male, Magic Leap's recruiting verbiage contains a not-so-subtle "women-need-not-apply" message.

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