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Fired Rivian exec files gender discrimination lawsuit alleging ‘toxic bro culture’ at EV truck startup

A former Rivian marketing executive filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the EV truck startup alleging she was fired after raising concerns about a “toxic bro culture” in the C-suite.

Laura Schwab, 48, alleges she was forced out last month after less than a year as vice president of sales and marketing at Rivian, where she worked out of the company’s Irvine, California, headquarters. The veteran auto industry executive alleges she was marginalized, ignored and her role diminished by male executives, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in California Superior Court.

When she spoke up about the “boys’ club culture” and gender discrimination at Rivian, she was “abruptly” fired, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the complaint, Schwab’s Oct. 15 dismissal came two days after she discussed her treatment with Rivian’s human resources department, and weeks ahead of the company’s initial public offering expected to take place this month. Had Schwab remained with Rivian until her one-year anniversary Nov. 30, she would have received equity in the company through restricted stock options, according to the lawsuit.

“Her termination has damaged her previously unblemished track record and reputation in the automotive industry, and the emotional impact is severe,” the lawsuit states. “Rivian’s unlawful conduct also cost Ms. Schwab millions of dollars in unvested equity on the eve of the company’s IPO.”

A Rivian spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Founded in 2009, Rivian is building an electric truck and SUV, as well as 100,000 custom EV delivery vans for Amazon, an investor in the company. Rivian is seeking a valuation of about $60 billion in its forthcoming initial public offering, which could raise more than $8 billion, according to a filing Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company has 3,136 employees at its Illinois production facility, a converted Mitsubishi plant in the downstate city of Normal, and about 9,000 employees overall.

Schwab, who lives in San Clemente, California, and previously held executive roles at Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin, was recruited by Rivian for months before joining the company last November, according to the lawsuit. Given a broad portfolio that included everything from marketing and customer engagement to arranging test drives, Schwab initially had regular conversations with Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe, but those grew less frequent over time, the lawsuit alleges.

Contact with her direct supervisor also began to wane, as did her responsibilities, and Schwab was excluded from most important strategy meetings with senior leaders, undermining her standing and diminishing her influence at Rivian, the lawsuit alleges.

In the spring, Schwab sounded an alarm that Rivian’s inaugural vehicles were underpriced and that each sale would result in a loss to the company, the lawsuit alleges. She also expressed concerns about quality control and meeting production targets in 2021. Schwab was told by her supervisor not to discuss those concerns with Scaringe, the lawsuit alleges.

By summer, Schwab alleges she had been cut out of a project to prepare for the IPO and was removed from vehicle pricing discussions — an area of particular expertise. In October, she was told to hand off the test drive program to a male executive, the lawsuit alleges.

Schwab contacted Rivian’s human resources to complain about her diminished role, and the “the ‘bro’ culture that made Rivian more like an ‘old boys’ club’ rather than a serious business,” the lawsuit alleges. Within days, Schwab alleges she was called into Rivian’s headquarters, where she was told the company had decided to eliminate her position as part of a reorganization.

Called a “high performer” by her supervisor during the termination, Schwab was the only person laid off as part of the reorganization, the lawsuit alleges.

This story was originally published November 5, 2021 1:49 PM.

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