Virtual Reality

Is Magic Leap a Mirage of Misogyny & Deceit?

Magic Leap has made big promises and raised big cash, but the reality at the augmented reality startup may not be as rosy as they're letting on. The company is facing a lawsuit this week that alleges it promoted a sexist work environment and used misleading marketing materials that inaccurately depicted its product's capabilities.

The lawsuit (accessible here with a log-in) was filed by Tannen Campbell, Magic Leap's former vice president of strategic marketing and brand identity, who says she was fired after calling out the CEO Rony Abovitz for refusing to acknowledge misogyny within the company or address the hostile work environment. The suit alleges things got so dysfunctional at Magic Leap that it is the reason the company still does not have a commercial product to launch.

The lawsuit claims Magic Leap violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. Campbell is requesting "damages, including punitive damages; equitable relief including reinstatement or front pay; and her costs, including reasonable attorneys' fees."

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The cloaks of mystery that have shrouded the augmented reality startup have begun to be lifted in recent months, and what has been revealed isn't pretty. The company was founded in 2010 promising an AR headset that would superimpose virtual objects onto real-world ones. This promise helped it attract $1.4 billion in capital from companies like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Alibaba Group , as well as strike a partnership with Lucasfilm for Star Wars-inspired content. It has promised exciting 3D content, life-like interactions between the virtual and physical world and immersive experiences. (See Magic Leap Enters a Galaxy Far, Far Away.)

The problem, however, is that Magic Leap hasn't actually delivered on this yet. And, Campbell's suit suggests it might not be able to, noting that the company used marketing material that didn't accurately reflect the technology's capabilities. Campbell says her concerns were ignored as the all-male team was comfortable showing off "aspirational" capabilities. (See Google's Dreaming of VR in September – Report .)

Business Insider revealed a picture of its early prototype AR device last week, which looked clunky and incomplete, and The Information reported in December that Magic Leap was having trouble shrinking its technology down to a workable size.

This week's lawsuit levies some serious claims of workplace discrimination and sexism at Magic Leap. The suit alleges that Campbell was hired in 2015 in part to help change the "boy's club" culture of the office, which only had one other senior-level female, Chief Business Officer Rachna Bhasin, and 14% females in the total company. Campbell said despite her efforts to change things up and recruit more women, CEO Abovitz dismissed, delayed or cut short their meetings on the subject.

A Magic Leap "female brain trust initiative" (FBI) was set up and led by Bhasin to ensure women were considered in product design, but Campbell says these efforts too were ignored -- and that it will show in the core apps that Magic Leap will ship with. (See Why We Need Diversity Before AI Takes Over.)

The lawsuit reads: "The macho bullying atmosphere at Magic Leap fosters a dysfunctional culture which creates chaos and lack of process and structure, hinders the company from achieving key product deadlines (including launch, which has shifted back at least 4 times in Campbell's 1.5 years at the company) and, literally, prevented Campbell from doing the job she was hired to do or achieving the goals she and Abovitz had discussed during her initial interview: helping with the 'pink/blue problem' or making Magic Leap less of a 'boys club.' "

The lawsuit includes 28 pages detailing incidents of sexism, marginalization and exclusion that resulted in a hostile work environment and ultimately affected product development. Magic Leap did not respond to a request for comment to Light Reading (or any publication so far, it seems), but it will clearly have some explaining to do -- on the allegations of sexism, misleading marketing, delays and its actual product.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

alison diana 2/16/2017 | 7:46:51 AM
Lip service This lawsuit troubles me: Not that there is a lawsuit, but that she has reportedly got so many grounds to file one. That the company could go so far as to recognize it needed diversity yet apparently only to meet appearances is infuriating.
Mitch Wagner 2/14/2017 | 3:38:44 PM
Re: time for a disappearing act? Interesting to see the allegations that sexism isn't just bad -- it's bad for business.
Sarah Thomas 2/14/2017 | 1:20:35 PM
time for a disappearing act? This is clearly not a case of a disgruntled ex-employee seeking payback for being fired. The 28-page lawsuit provides a LOT of evidence to support her claims of sexism and worse. Read the entire document here, posted by CNET, to decide for yourself: https://www.scribd.com/document/339256141/Magic-Leap-lawsuit
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