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Electric vehicle startup Rivian has been sort of a darling among the automotive press. People like to get excited about new tech in this industry, and overwhelmingly positive test drives of its R1T pickup helped build more momentum. This week, however, serious and looming allegations have emerged about the company, specifically that it is cultivating a “toxic culture” within the work environment, especially for women. In an exclusive interview with the Wall Street Journal, former sales executive Laura Schwab shared that she’s formally filed suit against Rivian, alleging gender discrimination.

Welcome to Headlight. This is a daily news feature that lights up one current event in the car world and breaks it down by three simple subheadings: What HappenedWhy It Matters, and What To Look For Next. Look for it in the morning (Eastern time) every weekday.

What Happened

Schwab, an established automotive professional with 20 years of experience in the industry, including time as President of Aston Martin, detailed a “toxic bro culture” at Rivian. Schwab detailed that she and other high-ranking female employees were routinely left out of meetings and not given information that directly related to their jobs.

Rivian allegedly routinely kept her in the dark, eschewing her professional input when it was necessary, and in turn potentially hurting the business. Schwab stated that she’d raise concerns or ideas multiple times, only for them to be hand-waved away. Yet, when a male coworker would raise the same concerns or ideas, they would be considered in earnest. She added that she expressed feelings of marginalization to the company’s human resources department, only to be fired two days later.

In addition to the WSJ interview, Schwab has shared her story in a post on Medium, which you can read without any kind of login.

We reached out to a Rivian representative via email for comment, but they simply said, “We can’t comment on this, as we are in our quiet period.” That might seem like an odd response at first, but according to investor.gov, “quiet period” is a phrase that refers to, “the period of time surrounding the filing of a registration statement during which an issuer of securities must ensure that its offering-related communications comply with the federal securities laws. This period lasts, at a minimum, from the time an issuer files a registration statement with the SEC to the time that SEC staff declare the registration statement ‘effective.'” In simple terms, they can’t talk because of the IPO.

Why It Matters

From a completely detached economic perspective, Rivian’s on the cusp of an IPO (Initial Public Offering), and news like this can seriously harm its showing. Like most startups, Rivian offers stock options and equity as part of the compensation package, and Rivian’s alleged retaliatory firing cut Schwab out of those benefits, so part of her suit includes unvested equity. The optics of the situation don’t look great and could sew doubt in the minds of Rivian stockholders about the investment.

On the human level, Schwab is an automotive industry veteran, with more than 20 years of experience, who spent much of her career at luxury automotive brands. Women still face discrimination in the workplace no matter how qualified they are, unfortunately. The only way to eradicate discrimination is to face the issues head-on and address what needs to change.

What To Look For Next

This is a developing story. When a highly credible and accomplished individual in the automotive industry speaks up, it’s critical that we pay attention. Schwab made mention that another female high-level employee experienced similar treatment, but that woman remained unnamed. It is very possible that other employees could step forward later, informing us about being marginalized at Rivian. We don’t know yet, stay tuned.

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