Ex-Aston Martin Executive Says Rivian Fired Her for Raising Concerns About a ‘Toxic Bro Culture'

Adam Jeffery | CNBC
  • Laura Schwab, who joined Rivian late last year from Aston Martin, sued the electric vehicle start-up on Thursday, claiming she was fired after raising concerns about the company's "toxic" workplace culture.
  • Rivian declined to comment on Schwab's post and the allegations, citing its IPO quiet period.
  • Schwab, who previously served as Aston Martin's American division president, was hired last November as Rivian's first vice president of sales and marketing.

A former female executive at Rivian is suing the electric vehicle start-up, claiming she was fired for raising concerns about the company having a "toxic bro culture."

Laura Schwab, who joined Rivian late last year from Aston Martin, described the company as an "old boys' club" in which female executives such as herself were left out of crucial meetings and marginalized, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in a California Superior Court in Orange County. Schwab also filed a statement of claims with the American Arbitration Association.

Schwab alleges that she was fired from Rivian last month after she complained to HR about the company's "toxic" work culture and marginalization of female executives from important meetings. Schwab also claims the company dismissed concerns she had raised regarding Rivian's business.

"Rivian publicly boasts about its culture, so it was a crushing blow when I joined the company and almost immediately experienced a toxic bro culture that marginalizes women and contributes to the company making mistakes," Schwab said in a Medium post published Thursday afternoon. "I raised concerns to HR about the gender discrimination from my manager, the 'boys club' culture, and the impact it was having on me, my team, and the company. Two days later, my boss fired me."

Rivian spokeswoman Amy Mast declined to comment on Schwab's post and the allegations. She cited restrictions of the company's quiet period as part of its IPO, which it filed for in August. The company is expected to list on the Nasdaq as early as next week.

Schwab, who previously served as Aston Martin's American division president, was hired last November as Rivian's first vice president of sales and marketing. She was a high-profile addition for the company following a 20-year career with the famed British luxury brand as well as Jaguar Land Rover.

In her lawsuit, Schwab claims Rivian violated California's labor code, damaged her reputation and cost her "millions of dollars in unvested equity on the eve of the company's IPO." Schwab said she was offered a $360,000 base salary, a 40% bonus, a $4,000 per month stipend, a $100,000 sign-on bonus, and $1.5 million in equity in the form of restricted stock units at the time she was offered employment, according to the complaint.

Rivian, which is backed by Amazon and Ford, is expected to seek a valuation of as much as $60 billion in an IPO that could take place as soon as next week, sources previously told CNBC. Rivian is developing last-mile commercial delivery vans for Amazon and recently began production on its hotly anticipated electric pickup, the R1T.

Schwab reported to Jiten Behl, according to the lawsuit. Behl, a former principal at consulting firm Roland Berger, oversees Rivian's customer-focused teams across the business, including brand, sales and marketing, among others, according to the company's website.

Schwab said she raised concerns about Rivian's "ability to deliver on its promises to investors" to Behl and other executives, including Stuart Dixon, director of product management, and Andy Zicheck, principal product manager, which were dismissed. She was also instructed not to voice her concerns to Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe, the lawsuit states.

Schwab said she warned executives that Rivian's vehicles were underpriced but she was rebuffed. Behl later agreed Rivian would need to raise vehicle prices after a male executive raised the issue with him, the lawsuit states.

Schwab said she also voiced skepticism around Rivian's manufacturing and delivery targets during sales and operations meetings in September. Rivian last week disclosed in an amended securities filing it plans to deliver 1,000 R1Ts by the end of the year.

'No one listened'

In her blog post, Schwab said she was "excited" to join Rivian, but that excitement quickly turned to feelings of marginalization following an alleged pattern of exclusion among the company's top male executives.

"Despite my 20 years of auto experience, and my position as VP of Sales and Marketing, I was excluded from crucial meetings that impacted our mission and my team," Schwab wrote. "Time and time again, I raised concerns regarding vehicle pricing and manufacturing deadlines, but no one listened, even though I have extensive experience launching and pricing vehicles. It wasn't until my (often less experienced) male colleagues raised the exact same ideas that the Chief Commercial Officer would respond. Never in my years in the auto industry had I experienced such blatant marginalization."

Schwab alleged that her boss said the reasoning for her firing was a "larger 'reorganization.'" Schwab argues she was the only person "reorganized" though.

"I pointed out that there was no coincidence in my firing and my raising concerns of bro culture and gender discrimination just two days earlier," she said. "The very person I had flagged as promoting the discriminatory culture was the person who terminated me."

CNBC reached out to Schwab, whose lawyer, David Lowe, responded on her behalf. In a release, Lowe said "Schwab is determined to hold Rivian accountable for its bad behavior."

Lowe's San Francisco-based firm, Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe LLP, previously represented a former chief operating officer at Pinterest who last year settled her gender-discrimination and wrongful-termination case against the social-media company for $22.5 million.

Lowe's law firm also represented former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao in her gender discrimination lawsuit against top Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. Pao, who brought the complaint against the venture capital firm when she was a partner, lost the discrimination suit.

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