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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Airbnb and Uber Executives Sued for Sexual Harassment and Wage Theft by Former Live-In Domestic Worker

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2015 at 12:20 PM

click to enlarge Julieta Yang announced her lawsuit at a press conference today.
  • Julieta Yang announced her lawsuit at a press conference today.
A former live-in domestic worker for two San Francisco tech executives filed suit against her former employers today, alleging sexual harassment and wage theft.

A complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court alleges that Cameron Poetzscher, the head of corporate development for Uber, and Varsha Rao, the head of global operations for Airbnb, subjected Julieta Yang to a "sexually hostile work and home environment" and failed to pay her the minimum wage and overtime.

A 45-year-old mother of three from the Philippines who worked for Rao and Poetzscher, a married couple, for seven years, Yang announced her lawsuit at a press conference at the Bayanihan Community Center this morning.

"God will help me in this fight," she said. "I know there are many others like me in this city." 

Yang began working for Poetzscher and Rao — San Francisco residents who have two children — in March 2008 in Singapore. On Yang's first night of work, Poetzscher, who worked for Goldman Sachs before he joined Uber in March 2014, "walked into the kitchen naked and watched [Yang] cook," according to the suit. 

Rao "traveled frequently for work" and when she was absent, Poetzscher routinely sexually harassed Yang,  subjecting his live-in domestic worker to "nudity, comments of a sexual nature, unwanted sexual advances, and unwanted touching," according to the complaint. In one alleged incident, Poetzscher "purposefully bumped into her and rubbed his groin against her."  
click to enlarge Varsha Rao - LINKEDIN
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  • Varsha Rao

When Yang complained of his behavior to Poetzscher, Poetzscher would tell her not to say anything to Rao "because she would get angry," Yang's lawsuit alleges.  

In July 2013, Poetzscher and Rao moved from Singapore to San Francisco and offered to triple Yang's wages if she accompanied them. Yang lived with the couple in their home in the Marina until April 15, 2015, when she quit her job, she says,

Yang alleges that she was paid a "fixed weekly rate of $450" throughout her time in San Francisco, "regardless of how many hours she worked." She says she frequently worked nine hours per day, six days a week, and was not provided with legally mandated meal and rest breaks.

Further, Yang alleges she was required to sign "employment contracts" that stated she worked 30 hours per week for $12.50 an hour, despite the fact that she was working much longer hours. 

Poetzscher continued to sexually harass Yang once they were in San Francisco, the complaint alleges. After requesting Yang to massage his legs with a rolling pin, the complaint alleges that Poetzscher "apologized, noting that he was not supposed to act in such a way in the United States."

Nevertheless, the inappropriate behavior continued, according to the lawsuit. "When Plaintiff Yang was cleaning the master bathroom, he would disrobe in the bedroom, forcing Plaintiff Yang to see him naked while she was working or when she tried to leave the room. He would also leave the bathroom door open when he was using the toilet," the complaint alleges.

Yang claims she "asked on many occasions to talk to" Rao about the harassment, but that "Rao told Plaintiff Yang that she did not have time to talk and that whatever Yang needed would have to be handled by" Poetzscher. 
Cameron Poetzscher - LINKEDIN
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  • Cameron Poetzscher

Yang is being represented by attorneys from the Asian Law Caucus and the Women's Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University of Law. 

"Domestic workers, who work alone and behind closed doors, are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, low pay, and other unfavorable working conditions," said Hina Shah, one of Yang's attorneys. 

In 2014, Varsha Rao was profiled in Marie Claire and spoke about her time in Singapore as "a really nice family adventure." 

The lawsuit was filed this morning and had yet to be served on the couple as of this morning.

We reached out to Airbnb and Uber to seek comment from Rao and Poetzscher, and will update when we hear back.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Cameron Poetzscher released the following statement: 
“We are both deeply shocked and saddened by these allegations — which are completely and utterly false. Julieta worked as our nanny for seven years and was an important part of our family, someone both our children loved deeply. Julieta left in April, and we have not heard from her since then. We will make no further comment about this case.”   

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About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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