A prominent tech CEO has filed a lawsuit against a business competitor, accusing the man of pretending to be a woman online and posting a false story of sexual harassment designed to undermine the reputation of both his company and himself.
Anis Uzzaman, the CEO of San Jose, California-based company Fenox Venture Capital, has accused rival Brandon Katayama Hill, the founder of the San Francisco marketing consultant group btrax, of attempting to exploit the currently-charged climate in Silicon Valley for his own gains.
According to The Guardian, Uzzaman claims that Hill was behind an anonymous blog post written from the perspective of a female who accused the tech CEO of sexual harassment. It was originally published in Japanese on the widely-read Japanese site Hatena, and it details an allegedly fictional incident in which Uzzaman met the author for a business meeting, then tried to coerce her up to his hotel room.
“A lot of people from Japan, including students, and many very cute girls come to him, and he takes advantage of them,” reads the translation of the blog filed in the complaint.
The IP address for the post was traced back to Hill's home.
“To have these false accusations come particularly in this climate when there’s this growing awareness of a problem that does exist, it’s damaging,” Katrina Saleen, Uzzaman’s attorney, said to The Guardian. “It’s also an insult to true victims of sexual harassment … It makes people question the veracity of true victims, which is harmful.”
Hill insisted as many as 50 other people could have accessed his Wi-Fi and that he had no need to compete with Fenox as they were in "totally different businesses." He wrote in an email to The Mercury News that the accusations were entirely false.
“I am falsely alleged for things I have never done,” he stated. “I am working with my attorney to make things clear.”
However, Saleen stands firm in her evidence: "Comcast has confirmed that the IP address that the blog was posted from is from Brandon Hill’s home … We’ve also confirmed that he has password-protected Wi-Fi.”
The tech industry has long been dominated by men, and as women attempt to carve out a place for themselves in Silicon Valley, the road has been one riddled with sexism.
In early July, the founder of 500 Startups, Dave McClure, resigned after a woman accused him of making a move on her during the job interview process, then rejecting her application when she refused his advances. Uber faces backlash after a blog post by a female engineer went viral. In the post, she describes instances of sexual harassment her supervisors attempted to quash not by addressing the harasser's behavior, but by threatening to fire her.
A report titled "Elephant in the Valley" conducted by female members of the tech industry found that 60 percent of the over 200 women they surveyed, each with a minimum of 10 years experience in the field, had been sexually harassed. Ninety percent of the women reported witnessing instances of sexual harassment, and one in three said that circumstances at work had led them to fear for their safety.
Technology may be the future, but it has a long way to go.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user Rainer Stropek