Female Yahoo exec sued by ex-employee for sexual harassment

Image Credit: TheTechBlock

A high-ranking executive at Yahoo is being sued by an ex-employee on charges of sexual harassment, reports the San Jose Mercury News Friday afternoon.

The high-ranking executive being accused, Maria Zhang, plays a key role in Yahoo’s mobile content development efforts.

The complainant, Nan Shi, was working as a software designer at Yahoo, and says she was repeatedly coerced by Zhang into having “oral and digital sex.” Shi says she was terminated after she later refused Zhang’s advances.

Yahoo's Maria Zhang

Above: Yahoo’s Maria Zhang

Image Credit: LinkedIn

Shi filed her sexual harassment lawsuit Friday, naming Yahoo as a defendant and charging Zhang with sexual-harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful termination.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of such cases in the tech community over the past few months, although it is the first we know of to involve a female executive. Tinder chief executive Sean Rad was hit with a sexual harassment and sex discrimination lawsuit by a former VP of marketing at the company. GitHub CEO Tom Preston-Werner stepped down after claims that he sexually harassed an employee. Urban Airship’s Scott Kveton took an “extended leave of absence” after allegations arose that he raped an ex-girlfriend.

Shi’s attorney told the Mercury News that Zhang and Shi came to Yahoo after the software giant bought the Seattle mobile software company where both women worked.

Shi moved into Yahoo temporary housing (under orders from Zhang, she says), and Zhang soon moved in with her, the attorney said. It was then that the alleged harassment took place.

ex-Yahoo employee Nan Shi

Above: ex-Yahoo employee Nan Shi

“While staying with Plaintiff, Zhang coerced Plaintiff to have oral and digital sex with her on multiple occasions against her will, even after Plaintiff told her she did not want to have sex,” the complaint alleges.

“Zhang told Plaintiff she would have a bright future at Yahoo if she had sex with her. She also stated she could take away everything from her including her job, stocks, and future if she did not do what she wanted.”

Speaking to the Mercury News Friday, Shi said:

“I was in a deep sleep one morning, sleeping on the sofa because she had taken my bed, when she came in without clothes on, crawled into my blanket, and woke me up, hugging me, kissing my face and neck,” Shi said. “I woke up and got scared; I was shocked. I said, what are you doing? She said she’d liked me a long time, but I didn’t’ feel the same toward her. I said come on, we’re friends; I love you as a person, but not as a lover.”

A Yahoo spokesperson said “There is absolutely no basis or truth to the allegations against Maria Zhang. Maria is an exemplary Yahoo executive and we intend to fight vigorously to clear her name.”

More information:

Yahoo! is the premier digital media company. Founded in 1994 by Stanford PhD candidates David Filo and Jerry Yang as a way for them to keep track of their personal interests on the Internet, Yahoo! has grown into a company that hel... read more »

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Eugene Thomas
Eugene Thomas

I cannot judge the veracity or lack thereof of the complainant.

However, I can tell you that if the executive were at one of my past companies, once HR informed me of the issue, I would have immediately terminated the executive if the living arrangement were true ~ regardless of any sexual activity or the absence of such activity and whether or not the living arrangement was current or past.

Why? Because it demonstrates very poor judgment on the executive's part, not to mention a huge power differential that usually never works out well for any company when such relationships -- sexual or not -- go haywire.

Furthermore, through her unwise action of living with an employee (in YAHOO housing, of which there must be breadcrumbs to prove), I, as an employer, would use that fact (if it could be proven) to tell the executive that I could no longer trust her judgment.

Moreover, I would also be fearful that such immaturity, lack of judgment and violation of my company's employment policy could open me up to future lawsuits down the road based on more unwise and immature actions of said executive.

And I'm not even talking about any alleged sexual relationship. If my investigators told there was proof of a sexual relationship, I would seek to settle quickly with the former employee ~ regardless of the truth or untruth of the alleged harassment.

Why? Because I am at a severe disadvantage because my executive was living with said employee in said employee's housing (provided by my company); my executive was the former employee's superior as an executive; adding insult to injury, my executive was the former employee's immediate supervisor who performed the employee's evaluations.

Additionally, any self-respecting CEO, HR team and legal counsel would have certain stipulations built in to employee agreements.

For example, in all my employee handbooks there was a simple policy ~ a legal stipulation ~ that all employees must agree to prior to accepting employment. And that is this policy: NO SUPERVISOR may live with a subordinate. The reason? It would open my companies up to huge liability if something went sideways, such as allegedly occurred here ~ regardless of sex or no sex and regardless of harassment or no harassment.

And, for those who cite performance appraisals, you have me laughing. Evaluations can be manipulated so very easily. Even if the complainant was a poor worker, she can claim that the emotional trauma she allegedly suffered from the alleged sexual harassment caused her performance to deteriorate.

And, if she ever did receive a positive performance evaluation in Seattle or Sunnyvale, then that performance deterioration might be proved to be associated with the alleged sexual harassment and/or living arrangement (even without sex). In that case, such performance evaluations that document a decline in productivity and quality, etc., might actually HELP the complainant. (Yahoo ought to be careful here.)

Plus, a jury is going to wonder why this executive would bring an employee with her to Yahoo, if said employee were so deficient in work quality.

Yahoo is in big trouble. Did legal counsel clear the Yahoo spokesidiot's statement? If so, Yahoo, terminate your HR director, assistant HR director and your HR legal counsel.

Even if allegations are proven false, one of my companies would be out hundreds of thousands if not millions in legal costs, and it is a PR/morale nightmare.

If this Yahoo executive really was living with her subordinate, either during the time of performance appraisals or before, she should NEVER HAVE BEEN ALLOWED to write a performance appraisal. Any self-respecting and mature executive knows that you 1) cannot live with a subordinate 2) cannot live with a subordinate you are responsible for reviewing and grading work performance for 3) need to inform HR of any such living arrangement, be it sexual or not.

The fact that Yahoo did not terminate this executive may actually assist the complainant in her case because it reveals, to me, a gross lack of judgment. Why was the executive not terminated for the living arrangement, if it is true, and even if it were not sexual? Since when is it wise or company policy to have a superior ~ direct supervisor in this case, living with a subordinate?

HR should have terminated the executive on that alone.

Even if these allegations are proven to have no merit, Yahoo has some significant ethical, moral and legal questions surrounding toleration of this executive's judgment ~ if she really did move in with a direct subordinate. Many questions to answer, especially to stockholders.

Rebecca Cortright
Rebecca Cortright

This series of lawsuits being filed on these execs proves how immoral these people are. Sadly it also affects their company's image. I guess a handbook about criminal offenses should be put on to their heads permanently.

jim von mann
jim von mann

Personally I am old school and prefer plain old analog sex.

Max Ziegler
Max Ziegler

The question is, what is really sexual harassment? Where does it start and what's the regular in between humans interaction...might be a bit to easy to fire somebody in the US because of this law... We are all humans not computers...thankfully!

Amar Shukla
Amar Shukla

digital sex amazed me as well .. sounds weird lol .. Pay your content writer a bonus amount and he/she will coin a better term for it :P :D

Yasmin Garcia
Yasmin Garcia

Yikes! Boss' taking advantage of their employees? it should stop. Do the right thing Yahoo!

Ravi Kumar A
Ravi Kumar A

Buying n then killing products. Smthng is wrong with yahoo. It's getting into news for wrong reasons

Steve Oziel
Steve Oziel

Let me guess, Marissa just can't stop buying things, so she tried to buy a guy? ;)

Bigdawg's Aspirations
Bigdawg's Aspirations

Why aren't all the man hating liberal feminist commenting on this article??? Could it be that women have the same faults as men do, and all people can do harmful things to one another, not just one gender? #Pow

Jazz Octavian Ocfemia
Jazz Octavian Ocfemia

We really need a different term for "digital sex", particularly in this situation where the context is a digital company haha