Update 3/4/19: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from founder and CEO of BeBop Sensors Keith McMillen
On Feb. 26, Meredith Scheff-King filed a lawsuit against her former employer, BeBop Sensors, for gender discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.
BeBop Sensors, a developer of sensor solutions for equipment manufacturers, was founded in 2014 by current CEO Keith McMillen. The company, located on Fourth Street, is known for its forte data glove, an invention that provides high accuracy hand-tracking for virtual reality.
Scheff-King started working for BeBop Sensors as a product developer and was assigned management for the data glove project in March 2017. According to the lawsuit, from the beginning of her employment, Scheff-King noticed that McMillen “regularly mistreated” and even “physically cornered” one of the two other female employees. In fact, according to the lawsuit, “several employees noted that McMillen mistreated women and underutilized their skills.”
In June 2017, McMillen assigned Scheff-King the job of sewing the data glove, a project which he indicated would account for 80 percent of her regular workday. By August 2017, she was assigned to sewing full-time, despite her title as a product developer. According to the lawsuit, another female employee, hired as a hardware engineer, was also tasked with sewing full time. No men, however, were assigned to sewing in the company.
McMillen officially took away Scheff-King’s managerial position of the project in November 2017, and assigned it to an “unqualified male technician,” according to the lawsuit. In January 2018, Scheff-King wrote a formal complaint to the VP of Operations Toshi Quides, stating that she had “shown in the first months that (her) skill set is vastly wider and higher level career wise” than sewing, and in response was told to “stop complaining.”
According to the lawsuit, her complaint also explained how sewing was a demeaning task. Other managers agreed with her sentiment, but attempted to justify her assignment. The Chief Technology Officer Conner Lacey told Scheff-King in a Slack message that he thinks “being a seamstress at a tech company is actually totally cool” and that “it reminds (him) of those women who were like soldering spaceships for NASA.”
On Feb. 28, 2018, BeBop Sensors fired Scheff-King. Scheff-King claims in the lawsuit her termination was retaliation for the complaints about gender discrimination that she had lodged earlier.
The founder and CEO of BeBop Sensors, Keith McMillen said in an email that “Ms. Scheff made no complaints about discriminations during her employ.” McMillen adds that he “started 4 companies in Berkeley over the last 40 years, employing hundreds of people,” and that “no one ever mentioned this as an issue.”