Former Squarespace employee alleges ‘overt’ racism

Accounts of racism, sexism and discrimination are unfortunately way too common in the tech industry. The latest comes from Amélie Lamont, a black woman and former employee at website creation company Squarespace, who was fired after slapping a co-worker at a bar.

Lamont was a customer care supervisor at Squarespace from September 2011 through February 2014. Squarespace, founded in 2004, has raised $78.5 million in funding from investors like Accel Partners, Index Ventures and General Atlantic.

The story, which she shared on Medium in a post titled “Not a Black Chair,” compares the customer care department to high school and touches on an office romance, the time she slapped a co-worker after he touched her at bar, and a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed. Lamont filed the lawsuit in August 2015 after she was fired. She says she filed a claim alleging that she was coerced into signing a severance agreement, saying that she signed it immediately upon receiving it. That actually turned out not to be true.

“I misremembered, and had actually been given the agreement the day before,” Lamont wrote on Medium. “I had 24 hours to look it over before signing it, and thus my case against Squarespace dissolved.”

Still, Lamont says she experienced racism while working at Squarespace, and says the company has not owned up to its mistake, she wrote on Medium. Among the alleged slights are racism, discrimination and sexism. Here’s the most damning part, in which Lamont describes an interaction that happened at a weekly supervisor’s meeting with the VP of customer care:

She stared at me for a few seconds and remarked, “Oh. I didn’t see you. You blended in. You’re so black, you blend into the chair.” I didn’t believe what I was hearing and I didn’t know what to do. I looked at my arm, compared it to the chair in front of her.

“Nope, my arm is brown and the chair is black,” I quipped awkwardly.

She replied, “No. They’re the same color.”

Despite Lamont’s actions, there is no excuse for what the VP of customer care allegedly said about her blending into the chair because she’s “so black.”

“The racism I experienced at Squarespace was overt and documented,” Lamont wrote. “There’s no way to sugarcoat, ‘you’re so black, you blend into the chair.’ I even tried to redeem the situation by giving the VP of Customer Care a chance to backpedal. She chose not to.”

When I asked Squarespace about the alleged racism and discrimination, a spokesperson provided the following statement:

While it is our policy not to comment on HR issues involving current or former employees, we can confirm that Squarespace has long-standing policies against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Our workplace integrity is of the utmost importance and we take any such allegations very seriously. We work tirelessly to maintain an open and safe work environment here at Squarespace.

Lamont published her story late last night. Since then, another black female, Stephanie Duncker, who formerly worked at Squarespace, has chimed in on her experience.

“The entire time I worked at Squarespace, I was convinced my work wasn’t good enough, that it would be impossible to get another job, that I had to stay and put up with the nonsense b/c just paying back the moving bonus (~$2000) would set me back too far,” Duncker wrote on Medium. “My self-worth plummeted and I too had to start seeing a therapist.”

Squarespace’s overall rating on Glassdoor is a 4.4 out 5 stars, with 87 percent of employees saying they would recommend the company to a friend. Of the 73 employee reviews of Squarespace on Glassdoor, 10 gave the company a rating of two stars or less. Six of those 10 ratings came from people who were part of the customer care team — the same team Lamont worked with. One of those reviews cites the cons as no growth with promotions handled “by and with sympathy, favoritism and just by having a cheerleader attitude (remember to repeat frequently that all is f*** awesome).”

On the flip side, a top rating says a pro of working at Squarespace is that there’s a lot of room to grow. Though, I wonder how many of those ratings came from people of color.

Women, women of color and people of color in general are more at risk of facing challenges and discrimination in the workplace than their white, male counterparts. That’s due in part to the fact that tech companies are predominantly white and male, and that there are a lot of unconscious and conscious biases constantly at play. Squarespace has not released a diversity report, but Duncker wrote in her piece that there was only one black employee at the Squarespace office in Portland when she worked at the company.

Regarding what happens next, or, what Lamont would like to happen, she’s “more interested in this being used as a platform for other people to find the courage to speak up,” Lamont told me via email. “Stephanie Duncker is a great example–proof of the toxic environment that companies create for employees of color well. I’m honestly not sure of how to continue and build this platform beyond pushing a ‘publish’ button.”

You can read Lamont’s full story on Medium.