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Spotify sued by former sales employee over gender discrimination and equal pay violations

Spotify sued by former sales employee over gender discrimination and equal pay violations

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A former sales executive at Spotify has sued both the streaming music company and its US head of sales, Brian Berner, over alleged gender discrimination, equal pay violations, and defamation over her firing.

In a complaint filed with the New York Supreme Court on September 18th, Hong Perez accused Spotify of fostering a negative work culture for women at the company. Hired in 2015, the complaint says that “for three years, she [Perez] received extremely positive reviews and performance feedback. Her region was one of the top performing regions for Spotify.” She was credited as a “hero” during one internal company presentation for providing assistance to a co-worker suffering a stroke.

But during her time at Spotify, Perez “became increasingly concerned” about the company’s treatment of women. She points to two work-related trips — orchestrated by Berner — that were glaring examples of the preferential treatment that men received:

For example, in both 2016 and 2017, Spotify sponsored attendance of sales managers at the Sundance Film Festival for client networking purposes. Berner was in charge of selecting the key sales managers to attend. In both years, Berner selected a men-only group to attend. This, despite the fact, there were several women in equally (if not more) senior sales positions than the men Berner selected to attend. 

These were apparently referred to as “Berner’s ‘boys trips’” by others at Spotify. Drug use and even a physical altercation are said to have occurred during the course of the two Sundance visits. “Berner was aware of all of this, which, unsurprisingly, violated Spotify’s Code of Conduct,” the court filing reads. “Yet, in stark contrast to how he would later act concerning a purported Code of Conduct violation by a woman, Berner took no action to investigate or discipline these men.”

Perez says that Berner gave a higher salary bump and greater equity award to a male counterpart that held the same job title as Perez and another woman underneath him. But this issue is systemic, according to the complaint:

Spotify’s Global Head of Sales also awarded higher compensation and equity to men as compared to women. Indeed, one such male employee was promoted after he had been the subject of a sexual harassment complaint and received multiple warnings from the company. This same executive accompanied other (male-only) Spotify managers to Atlantic City, purportedly as part of “business,” where they visited strip clubs. 

Perez also claims that the company’s HR boss once told her that the human resources division had “gone easy” on a male employee who engaged in harassing conduct. “This is the same Head of Human Resources who thought it appropriate to tell an all-hands meeting that his favorite curse word is “c#nt.”

The lawsuit says that Perez was unjustly fired earlier this year over a business deal that was actually led by Berner. At one point, he secured tickets for a concert at Madison Square Garden. This, along with other problematic aspects of the deal, led to scrutiny from some of the company’s top executives. Perez says Berner ultimately saddled her with blame for the entire thing and terminated her employment over the situation. He later sent an email to “hundreds of employees” claiming that Perez “acted in ways that are against our code of conduct and guidelines for internal compliance.”

In statement given to Variety, Spotify said “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind at any level. While we cannot comment on the specific details of a pending litigation, these claims are without merit.”