Jonathan Teo, long a Bay Area venture capitalist, might be regretting having a Twitter account tonight. The reason: it was used to serve a summons to Teo by the law firm Baker Curtis & Schwartz, which represents a former employee of the early-stage venture firm Teo had cofounded in 2014, Binary Capital.
The plaintiff is Ann Lai, who joined Binary in 2015. Her role at the firm, according to her complaint, was to be “primarily responsible for establishing [Binary’s] data-driven sourcing strategy, conducting the diligence regarding their potential investments, and supporting their portfolio companies on analytics/growth strategies.” Yet Lai, who has three Harvard degrees, says that she battled discrimination and harassment on the job “almost from the day she started work,” according to her lawsuit.
Among Lai’s grievances: that Teo and firm cofounder Justin Caldbeck “requested and received headshots of female applicants that they sought to hire, and assessed these headshots for attractiveness. They also searched the applicants’ social media profiles to determine their relative ‘hotness.'” The complaint also states the Teo, Caldbeck, and Binary, which the two controlled, “expressed a desire to hold a company retreat, without significant others, at a location in which no one would wear clothes.”
The lurid details go on.
Ultimately, states the complaint — which was originally filed by Lai’s attorneys in 2017 and amended back in September — Lai was denied benefits, opportunities, and compensation owed to her because she pushed back against such conduct. She was also forced to resign and was defamed by both Caldbeck and Teo in the aftermath of her departure, says the suit, which seeks civil penalties.
The Information first reported in June of 2017 that, according to half a dozen women in the tech industry, Caldbeck had made unwanted advanced toward them. He resigned shortly afterward, while Teo fought unsuccessfully to keep Binary a going concern.
What happens next remains to be seen, but it’s certainly interesting that Lai’s attorneys used social media to reach Teo. They had no choice, they argue in an “ex parte application for order of publication of summons.” They say they tried reaching his attorneys as well as reaching Teo at the address where he last lived in San Francisco, but they say that not only has Teo since moved to an unknown address, his attorneys claimed to not know his whereabouts and refused to accept the summons on his behalf.
There was a precedent for the lawyers’ move. In fact, multiple cases have been granted similar approval by the court system to reach subjects via both Facebook and Twitter after they evaded being served, largely because social media is now the one point of contact that people typically maintain even when they flee to a foreign country of otherwise make themselves difficult to locate.
For his part, Teo last tweeted from his account on December 12.
Reached for comment about the action taken and the complaint itself, Teo responded via email, “It’s important to know that even a filed complaint can be made up of complete untruths.”
Worth noting: Lai’s attorneys — who also represented former Uber engineer Susan Fowler after she published her account of sexual harassment and sexism at the company — were able to serve Caldbeck this fall, they say through filings.
Caldbeck subsequently agreed to pay Lai $85,000 in exchange for her dismissing litigation against him personally.