Two former employees of Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan have sued the Facebook mogul, Chan and companies that manage the couple's personal affairs, according to court filings in San Francisco County Superior Court. They claim racial, gender, sexual orientation and disability discrimination and harassment, wage theft, other illegal employment practices, retaliation and wrongful termination.
The two separate lawsuits, represented by Los Angeles-based Employee Justice Legal Group, PC, were filed on Sept. 20. They ask for compensatory and punitive damages of unspecified amounts and injunctive relief.
The female employee, Mia King, and a male employee designated as "John Doe" in the lawsuits, are members of the LGBTQ community. King is Black and John Doe has medical disabilities, according to their lawsuits. If found true, the allegations paint a harrowing picture of conditions for some minority and disabled employees working to meet the Zuckerberg family's personal needs.
A spokesperson for the Chan Zuckerberg family office, however, said in a statement Wednesday that the complaints were thoroughly investigated and could not be substantiated.
Accusations of continuous sexual and racial harassment
King worked for Limitless Specialty Services LLC, a company that operates on behalf of the Zuckerberg family, and a string of other corporate entities allegedly tied to Chan-Zuckerberg and Limitless Specialty. She worked as a security operations assistant from May 2018 through February 2019.
King's lawsuit against the Zuckerberg family claims that from the start of her employment, King's supervisor regularly made comments intimating that she did not deserve the position she was hired for because she was Black. He lamented about the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's diversity goals, which purportedly required him to hire a Black woman. He allegedly criticized her natural hair style as "unprofessional" and also regularly referred to her and other Black people as "ghetto," according to the lawsuit.
On multiple occasions, the supervisor also allegedly made remarks about "white genes" and complained that Meghan Markle polluted the British royal bloodline.
The supervisor also repeatedly invoked other negative, racially derogatory stereotypes about other employees and even Priscilla Chan. He allegedly blamed Chan for a car accident. Pulling back the corners of his eyelids, he stated that Asian women are notoriously bad drivers, according to the lawsuit.
He also frequently made inappropriate, overtly sexualized comments directed at openly gay employees in King's presence. He allegedly mockingly imitated Doe and on at least one occasion referred to him using a derogatory term. He questioned Doe's masculinity and asked whether he was the "man or woman." King, a member of the LGBTQ community, was personally offended by such homophobic remarks made in her presence, according to the lawsuit.
The supervisor also frequently targeted women by using sexually charged, degrading words and put down women employees' physical appearance, according to the lawsuit.
King alleges she was made to work on weekends without pay — in part, the supervisor allegedly said, because she was a "colored" woman. Both she and Doe were made to work extra hours and were denied lunch breaks and rest periods, both lawsuits claim.
King didn't receive any support from other employees or managers to whom she took her concerns, according to the lawsuit. The human resources manager, a woman, allegedly informed King that "men are in leadership here, men are in power" and that King needed to "act accordingly." Another employee also allegedly repeatedly propositioned King and inquired about her sexual orientation.
Although she complained numerous times to supervisors nothing was done, according to the lawsuit. Instead, she was told to speak with her harassers about their conduct.
In January 2019, King met with her supervisor for a performance evaluation. While he praised her work, he refused to approve her overtime requests for work previously completed. Afterward, he criticized several employees for reporting the inappropriate comments he had made and had even threatened to "shoot" one employee, the lawsuit claims.
King felt she faced severe retaliation for the prior complaints she had raised to upper management.
On Feb. 14, 2019, the supervisor issued a formal disciplinary writeup against King for purported insubordination. She was also disciplined for her supposed lack of discretion in reporting that he made homophobic, sexist and racist comments to the other employees he had similarly disparaged.
King complained to the upper management on Feb. 19, 2019, about her supervisor's retaliation. That same day, she received a response that her claims of retaliation were unsubstantiated. The upper management had failed to perform any investigation of King's complaints, the lawsuit alleges. King was fired the next day.
The second lawsuit
John Doe's lawsuit against the Zuckerbergs makes similar allegations against MPPR Associates LLC, another corporation in the long and complex chain of management organizations overseeing Zuckerberg's family affairs, such as security and properties.
He worked from January 2017 through March 2019. During that time, he was subjected to a repeated pattern of harassment and discrimination by senior managers and personnel at MPPR based on his sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability and medical condition, the lawsuit alleges.
As household operations manager, he was responsible for managing various properties for the Zuckerberg family. He personalized and tailored each hotel, property, and residence to the Zuckerberg family's specific aesthetic, design and comfort preferences. Primarily, he traveled, cataloged furniture and performed various household and menial labor tasks on the properties.
Doe, who is gay, was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment by the same supervisor who oversaw King. In July 2018 while attending an event at a sushi restaurant hosted by MPPR, King's supervisor made a sexually explicit gesture to Doe with the food. The man then slapped Doe's groin while walking past him. He ignored Doe's pleas to stop and groped Doe, according to the lawsuit. More harassment allegedly occurred during a trip to Montana to work on the Zuckerbergs' estate.
The supervisor also allegedly used derogatory language and intentionally misgendered a transgendered employee, referring to the employee as "it," the lawsuit claimed.
The supervisor assaulted and harassed Doe in front of other employees, managers and agents of MPPR, yet supervisors and the company failed to take any action to investigate and to protect Doe from further harm, the lawsuit stated.
Allegations of wage, work-conditions violations and failure to accommodate disabilities
Doe states that he was required to work as many as 17 hours a day but received no compensation, despite his classification as an hourly employee. He had few or no breaks for meals or rest periods, as required by law, nor was he financially compensated for losing those breaks and mealtimes.
He often worked from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. to prepare the various residences for the Zuckerbergs when they went out of town. His supervisor didn't make any changes to his schedule to offer him relief.
Doe has epilepsy and told his immediate supervisor that the condition was being affected by the long hours and lack of breaks and meals. His requests for changes were repeatedly ignored, however, his lawsuit states.
He informed his supervisor that he was being required to perform dangerous tasks such as climbing a ladder and carrying heavy loads that a person with his disability should not perform.
Despite informing his supervisor of his condition and limitations prior to projects, no compensation was made for his disabilities, the lawsuit noted.
Doe took his concerns regarding pay, working conditions and harassment to the human resources manager. She allegedly characterized his complaints as mere "gossip" and she accused him of insubordination.
He states he later learned that the same human resources manager shared his confidential medical information with other employees. This resulted in more disparagement from King's supervisor who expressed open disgust and made derogatory remarks regarding Doe's sensitive medical condition, according to the lawsuit.
In December 2018, Doe escalated his complaints about the harassment and conditions to senior managers and senior human resources personnel. Two days later he was accused of violating the company's policies. He adamantly denied the accusations made against him, but he was still threatened with termination.
Later that evening, and as a direct result of the campaign of retaliation and hostile work environment, he suffered a seizure that required medical treatment, the lawsuit claims.
Doe was placed on medical leave, which was twice extended by his doctor. During this time, his immediate supervisor allegedly sent him harassing emails.
On Feb. 22, 2019, Doe directly emailed Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan — who are director, managers, and/or controlling members of CZI Services, the umbrella company over the other entities working for the Zuckerbergs — regarding his complaints. Because all of the work was performed on behalf of the Zuckerbergs, the Zuckerbergs were in a position to address his complaints, according to the lawsuit. However, he still did not receive any relief.
Doe's physician eventually placed him on a modified work order that limited his work day to five to six hours and required him to work from home one to two days each week through May 31, 2019. In response, the defendants offered him a severance. On March 16, 2019, he was terminated from his job.
Doe and King filed complaints under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in December 2019. They received notices finding they had probable cause and giving them the right to sue, which allowed for the cases to be filed.
In an email statement, Ben La Bolt, spokesperson for the Chan Zuckerberg family office, said: “The family office takes complaints of workplace misconduct very seriously and promptly investigates all such matters. In this case, almost all of the allegations in these complaints were first raised through counsel, after both employees had left the company, and in connection with significant monetary demands.
"Nevertheless, when their lawyers shared these concerns, both our HR Department and outside counsel conducted separate multi-week investigations into the allegations, including by conducting numerous interviews of their colleagues and reviewing other relevant documents and information. Following these thorough investigations, these allegations simply could not be substantiated. We firmly believe that these employees were treated fairly and respectfully and the family office is confident that it will defeat these claims."
When these claims were anonymously leaked to the media over two years ago, the the family office stated it follows a strict code of conduct that requires appropriate behavior from all members of its teams, La Bolt said.
"It is our expectation that each of our employees adheres to this code of conduct. Any complaint made to our HR personnel is taken seriously and is investigated and addressed. We are proud of the team of professionals who work in the family office and are confident that these claims, which seek to unfairly disparage our colleagues, will fail,” he said.