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Lawsuit: Magic Leap, Broward's $4 Billion Startup, Is a Hostile Workplace for Women

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In April 2015, Tannen Campbell says, she was brought on at Magic Leap, Broward County's much-hyped, supersecretive virtual-reality startup founded by CEO Rony Abovitz. The boss hoped she might be able to address what the billion-dollar company internally called its "pink-blue problem":  It was a boys' club with no concept of how to attract female employees or customers beyond creating pink versions of its products.

But a year and a half after starting as head of strategic marketing and brand identity, Campbell couldn't get Abovitz to sit for the presentation she'd prepared. Despite trying again and again to schedule a meeting about the topic, she claims, she was told by Abovitz's secretary that the issue was not among his priorities.

Instead, Campbell alleges in a gender discrimination suit filed Monday, she showed up day after day to a workplace where female employees were routinely condescended to by male counterparts who made comments about their "pretty little faces" and "trouble with computers"; seen as incapable of serving in engineering roles and relegated to softer sciences; ridiculed for their ideas; and told not to speak at company meetings.

As a result, the company has missed key internal deadlines, including the launch of its virtual-reality product, which Campbell says was pushed back at least four times during her time at the company, which ended when she was fired in December. She claims her termination was a result of challenging Abovitz to address the misogyny ingrained in Magic Leap's culture.

"Due in large part to its gender imbalance and the misogynistic attitudes and behavior of its male employees, including executive management," the suit says, "Magic Leap’s corporate culture is one of macho bullying, where women’s work and ideas, including those of Campbell, are ridiculed openly and their opinions are ignored in favor of those of their male counterparts."

A spokesperson for Magic Leap did not respond to New Times' emailed request for comment. Neither Campbell nor her attorneys, Karen Coolman Amlong and William R. Amlong of Fort Lauderdale, could be reached Monday.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, paints a picture of rampant misogyny at the notoriously press-shy company, which has been dubbed a "unicorn" for attracting more than $1.4 billion in investments from the likes of Google and Warner Bros. despite not having released a product. It has been valued at more than $5.7 billion. Though Magic Leap has revealed little of what it's working on inside its Plantation production plant — or when the product will be available — its goal is to create a "mixed-reality" headset that will trick users' brains into seeing unreal objects in the real world.

Campbell claims she raised concerns about whether the company can deliver what it shows the public through its promotional materials. Her comments were "ignored in favor of her male colleagues’ assertions that the images and videos presented on Magic Leap’s website and on YouTube were 'aspirational' and not Magic Leap’s version of 'alternate facts,'" the suit says.

Though the tech industry has a gender-imbalance problem, Magic Leap stands out, the lawsuit claims: Women hold 30 percent of all jobs and 13 percent of engineering jobs in technology, while at Magic Leap, they had 14 percent of all jobs and 3 percent of engineering jobs. In addition, Campbell says the company had no women in leadership positions when she came onboard.

In the presentation she created for Abovitz, Campbell made the case for why the issue mattered: Statistics show that companies that maintain gender diversity and employ women in leadership jobs see greater returns on their investments, and women make most tech buying decisions and use technology more often than men.

But Magic Leap tolerated sexist comments and attitudes, the suit says.

Among the instances Campbell alleges she witnessed in the company: Once, she showed an image featuring a male and female doctor, and a male employee joked that it depicted "Bring Your Wife to Work Day." When a woman asked a question during a presentation, the IT support lead said, "Women always have trouble with computers." Asked to repeat the comment, he added, "In IT, we have a saying: 'Stay away from the three o's: Orientals, old people, and ovaries.'” And when a group asked the vice president of IT why he voted for Trump, he responded, "Because Melania is hot."

A senior engineer sent out an email, Campbell claims, with the subject line, "Board [sic] Wives at home while you are loving it at the Leap," which said his wife was starting a social group for spouses who wanted someone to hang out with while their spouses were "slaving away at work thru-out the 12-Hr day." The email directed employees to forward it to their wives, making the assumption "that all the employees were men with wives who didn’t work outside the home and were 'alone in the daytime.'"

When Campbell told an employee she was sorry for taking up his time making a new logo perfect, he responded, "Oh, don’t worry — I get it. You’re a woman, and you care that things look pretty. I’m a man. I just get the work done."

The suit claims Magic Leap's macho bullying atmosphere prevented Campbell from doing her job: helping with the "pink/blue problem" and making the company less of a boys' club.

"Sadly, because Magic Leap seldom hires and does not actively recruit female candidates, the company loses competitive advantage to products like Microsoft’s Hololens," the suit says. "Microsoft, which employs far more females on its team, developed its similar product on a faster timeline with more content that appeals to both genders."

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