Ann Lai, a general partner at Bullpen Capital, has been fired from the firm, she says. The investor described the termination experience as “discriminatory and retaliatory” in a LinkedIn post published on Monday. Lai helped raise Bullpen Capital’s most recent fund, a $145 million investment vehicle, the first investment vehicle in which she was named an equal partner.
Before joining Bullpen Capital in September 2020, Lai was a principal at Binary Capital, co-founded by investor Justin Caldbeck. When she resigned from that firm she attributed it to the sexist behavior that she said she witnessed while there. She claimed that Caldbeck, who has been accused of sexual harassment in the past, told her he would blacklist her from the industry if she spoke up. Lai said that she filed a lawsuit — ultimately settled — to be able to break her NDA and tell others the reason behind her departure, as well as help others in the industry break past silence-guaranteeing contracts.
Her return to investing was marked by her hire as a GP at Bullpen, as the firm’s first female partner and first partner of color.
“The whole point of my original case [with Binary] is that such behaviors are not covered by non-disparagement,” Lai told TechCrunch. “I specifically carved it out of the GP agreement for Bullpen, not thinking that I was ever going to need it. If it were like any other time the only narrative would be theirs. And then I’d have no options.”
It is TechCrunch’s understanding that Lai’s formal exit communications happened entirely through legal counsel. Lai did not accept a severance package from Bullpen Capital at the time of her termination. Asked for comment, she declined to say more, referring inquiries to her attorney Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s Michael Liftik, who declined to comment beyond providing the following statement:
Ann did not choose to leave Bullpen and she was not presented with an opportunity to stay past the end of April. We believe she was forced out, illegally, because she was not afraid to speak her mind and share her views. While robust debate was apparently tolerated among the other white male partners, this was unacceptable when it came from Ann, the only woman and minority in the partnership. Ann remains committed to the diverse founders she brought to Bullpen and the LPs with whom she shared her vision for a data-informed diligence process.
In a comment to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bullpen said that they are not going to comment on personnel matters. “We are disappointed by Ms. Lai’s recent comments about Bullpen, and we strongly disagree with them.”
On LinkedIn, Lai described the partnership at the firm as an “all-white, all-male partnership” in which “‘equal’ wasn’t ever truly equal.” Of her time in the firm, she claims that she had to “defend female founders when they’re baselessly called ‘untrustworthy’ or ‘uncompelling,’” push for male founders within Bullpen’s network to undergo standard due diligence, and stand up for herself in meetings after being called “a waste of time” in partner meetings.
The firm, through a spokesperson, said that Bullpen promotes “a collaborative culture of healthy debate and varied perspectives among our entire team, which is essential to finding unproven companies with high potential.”
Bullpen added: “Our accomplishments in this area predate and are independent of Ms. Lai joining the firm, and our commitment is as strong as ever. We are focused on moving forward without compromising on our founding vision of partnering with strong founders with the perseverance to become market leaders and generating attractive returns for LPs.” Lai’s lawyer did not have a comment in response to Bullpen’s statement.
Lai, meanwhile, told LPs in her post that she “was committed to delivering what we had marketed & promised for Fund VI. I would never quit so abruptly & irresponsibly.”
As part of her termination, Lai was not allowed to stay on the boards of her existing portfolio companies — including ChairmanMe, built by CEO Sarah Lacy, a former journalist at TechCrunch. Bullpen continues to own equity in Lacy’s company, as one of its biggest investors.
Lacy believes Lai’s experience is emblematic of a larger issue within Silicon Valley. She wrote a public LinkedIn post saying that what happened to Lai is an example of “why just hiring more female GPs has not changed this industry, about why despite the increase of women getting these jobs, the percentage of capital going to underrepresented founders has decreased. “
“Was it a feature or a bug that someone like Ann has been – once again – driven out for not playing the game?” Lacy wrote.
Lai says that Bullpen has not yet been in touch with her since she went public with her account of the termination.
If you have a tip or lead about other personnel shake-ups in the venture world, you can reach Natasha Mascarenhas on Twitter @nmasc_ or on Signal at +1 925 271 0912. Anonymity requests will be respected.