Synapse Financial Technologies Sued For Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation

December 10, 2019

If you visit the homepage of Synapse Financial Technologies, Inc., you learn that, in part, the company's mission appears to be about enabling "companies to build and launch best-in-class financial products." Moreover, as noted in part on the company's "About" page, we learn that:

Synapse provides payment, deposit, lending and investment products as APIs to FinTech companies who build and launch their financial innovations on top of our banking infrastructure. Our mission is to ensure that everyone around the world has access to best-in-class financial products, regardless of their net worth.

At Synapse, we share a general concern for the wellbeing of others and strive to build a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. Our work style is collaborative, action-oriented, and horizontally structured. We are a team of conscientious hard workers who also share a common sense of purpose.

The Complaint

Former Synapse Financial Technologies, Inc. employees Asya Bradley, Taylor Sims, and Mhaire "Mary" Fraser seem to have had some issues with the company's professed "values." As to that whole "wellbeing of others" and the "safe and inclusive environment for everyone," well, let's just say that they took issue to such an extent that they filed a lawsuit against their former employer asserting:

(1) Sex and Gender Harassment Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code § 12940 et seq.) ("FEHA");
(2) Sex and Gender Discrimination Under the FEHA; 
(3) Pregnancy Discrimination (BRADLEY only) Under the FEHA; 
(4) Disability Discrimination (SIMS only) Under the FEHA; 
(5) Age Discrimination (FRASER only) Under the FEHA; 
(6) Failure to Prevent Discrimination and Harassment Under the FEHA; 
(7) Unlawful Retaliation (Bradley and Sims) in Under the FEHA;
(8) Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy and/or Constructive Discharge; and 
(9) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

NOTE: The Complaint merely contains allegations and the Defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in a court of law by a preponderance of the evidence.

The Complaint alleges in its "Introduction" that Defendant Pathak is:

[S]YNAPSE's Chief Executive Officer and, at all relevant times, was identified as SYNAPSE's Secretary and Chief Financial Officer. From his position of power, he unrelentingly gaslighted, undermined, intimidated, and toyed with the female employees of SYNAPSE, including PLAINTIFFS. He employed a form of psychological manipulation to sow doubt in the minds of SYNAPSE's female employees, including PLAINTIFFS, to make them question their own abilities, perception and self-confidence. PATHAK's harassment and discrimination of certain female employees of SYNAPSE, including PLAINTIFFS, took myriad forms and included, but was not limited to, making a concerted effort to "break" female employees so that he could "rebuild" them to his liking. He made overt, graphic sexual comments in front of and to female SYNPASE employees and demeaned and belittled them both privately and publicly. Ultimately, his unlawful, harassing and discriminatory misconduct resulted in at least three female employees losing their jobs and side-lining their careers either as a direct result of being fired or being worn down to the point that they could no longer work within the hostile work environment he created.

Pages 2 -3 of the Complaint

Plaintiff Bradley's Allegations

As alleged in the Complaint: 

12. MS. BRADLEY came to know SANKAET PATHAK through her husband, Matt
Bradley. Mr. Bradley and Mr. PATHAK were college roommates in Tennessee. While in
college, Mr. PATHAK started Synapse Pay. Mr. PATHAK later moved to San Francisco,
California, and began SYNAPSEFI

13. In or around October 2014, Mr. PATHAK hired Mr. Bradley to work for SYNAPSEFI. From 2014 through June 2016, Mr. Bradley worked remotely. In early 2016 Mr. Bradley asked Mr. PATHAK if he wanted him to move to San Francisco versus continuing to work remotely, and he said "no." Mr. Bradley informed Mr. PATHAK Ms. Bradley was pregnant with their second child and looking at moving back to Tennessee from Chicago to purchase a home to be close Mr. Bradley's family so they could help raise their children as the two grew their careers. Mr. PATHAK supported their move from Chicago to Tennessee. 

14. Within about a month of purchasing a home in Tennessee, Mr. PATHAK began recruiting Ms. BRADLEY to work for SynapseFI in San Francisco. At the time, Ms. BRADLEY had another job offer, which allowed her to work from home. During the employment negotiations, Mr. PATHAK made several promises, including, that SYNAPSEFI was a family-friendly company and that Ms. BRADLEY could continue to work from home. Ms. BRADLEY decided to take the position at SYNAPSEFI based on Mr. Pathak's representations about working from home and SYNAPSEFI being a family-friendly company. 

15. In June 2016, while eight months pregnant, Ms. BRADLEY sold the home she had just purchased a month ago, moved with her husband and young son to San Francisco, and started working for SYNAPSEFI in San Francisco. 

16. On July 3, 2016, Ms. BRADLEY delivered her second son, Sean, via cesarean. After Sean's birth, Ms. BRADLEY did not receive a paycheck, but Mr. Bradley did. Soon after, Mr. PATHAK started pressuring Ms. BRADLEY to return to work. Since SYNAPSEFI did not pay Ms. BRADLEY for the work she did in June, so she was forced to return to work within weeks of having Sean. Ms. BRADLEY could hardly walk. 

17. Immediately, Mr. PATHAK started to say Ms. BRADLEY was not spending enough time in the office and told Ms. BRADLEY, he needed to "justify hiring her to everyone" and that he would "help her do better." To "help" her, Mr. PATHAK said he would call her in the middle of the night while she was breastfeeding to complete training. Ms. BRADLEY agreed and took Mr. PATHAK's calls at all hours of the night while she was up with her newborn. During the day, Mr. PATHAK wanted Ms. Bradley to be in the office.

During 2017, the Complaint paints a picture of allegedly increasing hostility between Plaintiff Bradley and Defendant Pathak. As characterized in the Complaint, the tension arose around increasingly later work hours -- such that Plaintiff Bradley purportedly "needed to bring her six-year-old and one-year old to work. . . " at Page 7 of the Complaint. Further, Plaintiff Bradley "used a conference room to breastfeed and provide her children with space to nap." at Page 8 of the Complaint. On December 25, 2017, the Bradleys had their third son. As the worksite environment allegedly grew more hostile, allegations of retaliation and escalation flew, and the Bradleys requested a formal investigation into what they deemed Defendant Pathak's ongoing harassment. By August 2018, this is the situation as depicted in part in the Complaint:

40. Mr. PATHAK's unlawful harassment and retaliation again escalated when Ms. BRADLEY returned from maternity leave. In or around August 2018, Mr. PATHAK told Ms. Sims he was going to "destroy" everyone in a meeting and then directed his attention towards Ms. BRADLEY. Mr. PATHAK yelled and screamed at Ms. BRADLEY throughout the meeting. She became so upset she tried to leave, but Mr. PATHAK blocked the door and continued to yell profanities at Ms. BRADLEY. 

41. As Mr. PATHAK's retaliation and harassment continued, Ms. BRADLEY's anxiety increased. On November 6, 2018, Ms. BRADLEY had a miscarriage, and her doctor placed her on medical leave.

. . .

47. While still on medical leave, Synapsefi demoted Ms. BRADLEY to a sales representative position and took away all of her supervisory duties. When Ms. BRADLEY returned from medical leave, SYNAPSEFI gave her new unattainable sales goals, removed her personal and work items, and someone was sitting at her desk. Knowing there was no longer a way for her to succeed and with the condition becoming completely unbearable at SYNAPSEFI, Ms. BRADLEY was forced to resign.

Plaintiff Sims' Allegations

As to the allegations of Plaintiff, Sims, in part, she alleges that she was forced to quit in January 2019 based upon Defendant Pathak's purported harassment and discrimination, which, in part, is characterized in the Complaint as follows:

55. PATHAK began requiring SIMS to accompany him on various car rides. Specifically, PATHAK took SIMS on errands during the workday, to conferences, and home when he kept her at work late. During these rides, PATHAK would play romantic songs and sing them to SIMS, which he would act out through hand gestures. Further, when SIMS tried to discuss work related topics, PATHAK would tell her he wanted to talk about personal things instead. These experiences made SIMS significantly uncomfortable and made it increasingly difficult for her to perform her job functions. 

56. In August 2018, SIMS reached a breaking point with respect to PATHAK's harassing comments and conduct. She decided to take some time off work to get a break from his behaviors. On or about September 25, 2018, she was placed on medical leave. 

57. SIMS remained on medical leave until January 2, 2019, and returned to work January 4th with work restrictions. Upon her return to work, SIMS was at least perceived to be disabled by PATHAK and SYNAPSE. Almost immediately, SIMS met with Tracey Guerin, Esq., in-house counsel for Synapse at the time. During their meeting, Ms. Guerin informed SIMS that her position and responsibilities had been restructured. This was an effective demotion given that SIMS was stripped of her primary responsibilities as Chief-of-Staff / Executive Assistant despite the absence of a prior history of performance deficiencies. Specifically, in this restructured position, SIMS was responsible for copying and pasting the names of SYNAPSE's clients into templated, form contracts, and comparably low-level administrative work.

Plaintiff Fraser's Allegations

Finally, Plaintiff Fraser alleges that she was terminated in March 2018 after having been exposed, in part, to this workplace conduct and behavior:

64. PATHAK also directed FRASER to "break down" her female subordinates. For example, FRASER expressed some concern to PATHAK about one of her female team members. PATHAK responded by saying "Yes, we need to break her down to the bottom and then reshape her to what we want and need." FRASER told PATHAK she did not lead this way and he informed her "Yes, but this is what I think is best" removing any other option from the table. Thereafter, FRASER informed PATHAK that this same female employee was responding to her leadership and he directed her to "keep breaking her down." Throughout this period, PATHAK mocked and verbally attacked FRASER's team member both in and outside her presence. Ultimately, PATHAK did fire this employee and, during the termination call, told her that he "was gaslighting her."

65. PATHAK also told FRASER directly that he would break her down and that he "was the man to do it." He even told her that he had "done this before" with respect to other female SYNAPSE employees. 

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