An employee at Indeed, Inc., the company that runs the job search engine indeed.com, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan Monday alleging that she was raped by a colleague during an orientation training on her second week at the company in 2015.
In the filing, the accuser, Taylor Gilbert, a 27-year-old senior account executive who still works at Indeed, alleges that she eventually went to HR with her complaint and that no action was taken on her behalf. Instead, she was told that the assault was likely the result of her own previous behavior, the lawsuit alleges.
Gilbert alleges that she had just started her job as an Account Executive at the company in July 2015 when she traveled from New York to Stamford, Connecticut, to attend a new orientation. It was there, the lawsuit alleges, that she was raped on July 23, 2015 by a male colleague, Aaron Schwartz, a senior manager who at the time worked for the company’s office in Austin, Texas. [Ed note: There is another Aaron Schwartz—Aaron Z. Schwartz—who works at Indeed as an account executive in sales based in Austin; he is not the individual mentioned in the suit.]
"The night it happened, I went out with a bunch of people from work for dinner, and we all went bar hopping on Indeed's dime,” Gilbert told VICE. She described having been hit on by Schwartz a couple days before, and texting her mother about it. On her way back to her room after bar hopping that night, she ran into him in the elevator.
“When other people left the elevator and it was just me and him,” she said, “he went up to me and starting making out with me. As I was really intoxicated and I was a new hire, and this person has been [at the company], I kind of went in shock. I couldn't really defend myself. Normally I would push someone off and say get off of me but I just froze. I remember when the elevator got to my floor he asked me, ‘Can I walk you to your room?’, and I distinctly remember saying, ‘No, I am fine,’ but he insisted. The next thing I remember is he was on top of me in my bed having sex with me. I felt extremely defenseless. Again, I was in shock, and I was intoxicated. My way of defense was I kept saying ‘I'm really drunk, I'm really drunk,’ and he continued to have sex with me, and I went in and out of consciousness during it. The next thing I remember, he went in the bathroom and left. Then I passed out again, and then I woke up very confused because I was fully clothed and I noticed on the floor my underwear, and then in the bathroom there was a used condom in the garbage can."
The complaint said of the alleged rape, “Ms. Gilbert repeatedly told Schwartz, 'I’m really drunk' and implored him to stop. But Schwartz allegedly did not stop. He continued to rape her, even after she had passed out during this encounter. Ms. Gilbert never consented to sex with Defendant Schwartz, and her level of intoxication rendered her incapable of consenting to sex with him. Ms. Gilbert awakened to observe Defendant Schwartz withdrawing his penis from her vagina and announcing that he was leaving. Ms. Gilbert passed out again, and when she woke up several hours later, she was clothed from the waist up but missing her underwear, which was strewn on the hotel room floor. She then discovered a used condom in the trash basket, confirming that Schwartz had gone to the Indeed orientation event with an objective: to have sex with one of the new hires.”
When Gilbert returned to New York City on July 25th, the complaint alleges, she went to Mount Sinai Beth Israel, where she was instructed to complete a rape kit. She contacted the police in Stamford (although an official report and investigation was not started until more recently) and a rape kit was collected.
VICE reviewed Gilbert's medical records, which match the timeline she provided. The primary diagnosis was sexual assault. The records also confirm that the Stamford police department had been contacted. VICE spoke with a representative at the Stamford Police Department, who said that the department is currently investigating the alleged rape. Schwartz has not been arrested or charged with anything to date.
VICE also spoke to Gilbert’s sister and college roommate, both of whom she told about the assault at the time. Both confirmed the details of her account.
The suit alleges gender discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, hostile work environment, disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation.
Defendants include Schwartz; Alexa Wachstein, a former direct supervisor of Gilbert’s; Gabrielle Verbaro, an HR business partner; and former employee Michelle Lam. The defendants have not responded to multiple requests for comment.
"At the time I didn't press charges because honestly I was petrified. I’d just moved from Cleveland to New York City with a small savings account," Gilbert said. I just got my dream job and I didn't want anything to jeopardize my future. I did end up pressing charges down the line."
The week of February 26, 2016, Gilbert said she saw Schwartz in the New York City office, which gave her a panic attack, the lawsuit alleges. She felt compelled to tell her direct supervisor at the time, Alexa Wachstein.
In an Indeed Hangout exchange between Gilbert and Wachstein on March 2, 2016, which VICE obtained, the women discussed Gilbert's rape claim. Wachstein writes, "that honestly needs to be addresses tho because whats to say hes not doing that to someone else and based on my harassment training, i actually have to say something. im not going to, but i dont feel right about it." Gilbert replied, “I just don’t know if mentally i can take going through everything with the rape thing.” She did ask her supervisor what the process would be should the alleged rape be reported. Wachstein explained there would be an investigation through HR.
Wachstein went on to suggest that their colleagues might have seen Gilbert making out with another coworker, and that that might have invited the assault. "i think that maybe people here have been hitting on you is because of some of the behavior they saw with Pavel at the beginning. that maybe they think ‘hey, maybe i can do that too,’” Wachstein wrote in the chat. “I don't agree with that way of thinking, but there boys." She concluded, "no i dont think people think ur a whore u barely even interact with anyone here."
Gilbert responded that she had never "made out" with anyone. In the lawsuit she alleges that Wachstein failed to report the rape. Additionally, the suit alleges “In or about the spring/summer of 2016, Ms. Gilbert also reported the rape to a more senior Indeed employee. Indeed took no action.”
Gilbert described to VICE a culture at Indeed that promotes heavy drinking during monthly happy hours, and encourages female employees to have sexual relations with male supervisors for potential career advancement.
"The culture specifically for sales, which I'm in, is male-dominated,” Gilbert told VICE. "They're constantly having happy hours. For women it's the more popular you are, and for what I find it's women that are sleeping with other managers and co-workers are the ones being promoted.”
According to the suit, “when it comes to its (Indeed, Inc’s) own workplace, Indeed has spawned and maintained a misogynistic culture in which women are viewed and treated as sexual objects. Indeed condones and perpetuates an environment in which women who succumb to the sexual advances of their male managers and colleagues are deemed 'bubbly' and rewarded, while those who rebuff or otherwise object to sexual advances and remarks and/or do not fit Indeed’s stereotype of a healthy sexual female are ostracized, marginalized and ultimately fired or forced to resign. Indeed fuels this misogynistic culture with frequent Company-sponsored drinking marathons (sometimes dubbed 'training sessions' or 'orientations') at which employees are encouraged to drink to excess on Indeed’s tab while male employees hit on female subordinates. Senior male employees particularly target new female hires, many of whom are starting their first jobs out of college and are understandably anxious to gain acceptance and please their superiors.”
Shortly after disclosing the assault to Wachstein, Gilbert developed migraines and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, among other health conditions, the suit alleges. VICE reviewed Gilbert’s medical documents confirming her medical conditions.
“The deterioration in Ms. Gilbert’s health (stroke-like symptoms, chronic migraine, lupus, and other unexplained physical manifestations) has been directly related to the rape and the sexual harassment and pervasive hostile work environment at Indeed. Ms. Gilbert did not experience any signs of these ailments prior to the rape,” according to the suit.
In 2019, Gilbert asked Indeed, Inc., for various accommodations due to her medical conditions, like working from home. The company did let her work from home temporarily, however, when she asked for additional accommodations she claimed she was presented with an ultimatum. In August 2019, the lawsuit alleges, Gabrielle Verbaro of HR gave Gilbert three options: willingly quit, be terminated, or go on long term disability. Gilbert then retained an attorney.
“Indeed failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations for disabilities caused and/or exacerbated by the rape and the ongoing sexual harassment she has suffered at Indeed,” the complaint alleges. “Instead, Ms. Gilbert has been, and continues to be, marginalized and retaliated against for having reported the rape and refusing to engage in sexual liaisons with male colleagues, and also for having suffered serious physical and psychological injuries and trauma resulting from or exacerbated by the rape, including being bypassed for promotions and pay raises.”
In February 2020, Gilbert and her colleagues received an updated company policy memo from Human Resources which said, "This year, one of the main changes relates to the Code of Conduct and romantic relationships at work. We want to ensure that decisions related to promotions, pay, discipline and evaluation, among others, are not influenced in any way by romantic relationships outside of work. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your current relationship being in violation of the Code of Conduct, please speak with your local HR Business Partner who will work with you to find a solution. Please note: this change is being enacted on a go-forward basis effective March 1, 2020. The purpose is not to discipline anyone for what occurred previously."
The suit claims, “Indeed issued a company-wide statement tacitly acknowledging that its personnel have used sexual relations as a basis for promotions and raises by stating that it would only prohibit this conduct going forward and would 'not discipline anyone for what occurred previously.' In so doing, Indeed delivered a clear message to Ms. Gilbert that her rapist would not be disciplined and that the Company would do nothing to redress the unlawful discrimination and harassment she had been forced to endure.
Indeed also did nothing to correct the fact that certain women were promoted based on sexual relations with male managers, while Ms. Gilbert was unlawfully left behind. Instead, Ms. Gilbert was directed to resign, while Defendant Schwartz was promoted and dispatched to the next 'happy hour' to prey upon the latest crop of female hires.”
In response to a request for comment, Indeed issued a statement via email to VICE:
Indeed is committed to providing a safe workplace for all employees, and we work to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to both their own and our company’s success in an equitable environment. We were deeply disturbed when we first learned in November 2019 of the allegation of a sexual assault. Although the alleged incident occurred almost five years ago, we placed the accused on leave as soon as Indeed was made aware that a criminal complaint had been filed. The accused is no longer an employee of the company. Indeed is proud of our culture of inclusion and belonging, and our long track record of leadership development and promotion through merit. We categorically disagree with the complaint’s characterization of our culture, which is offensive to our thousands of employees who have grown their careers at Indeed through hard work and results.
VICE asked Indeed’s rep when Schwartz stopped working for the company as a follow up to the statement. The rep said “We’re not commenting beyond the statement we provided earlier, makes clear that he was immediately put on leave and is no longer an employee at the company.”