Davos organiser World Economic Forum accused of workplace discrimination

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A former employee of the World Economic Forum has sued the Swiss non-profit, which runs a high-profile conference each year in Davos, and its chair, Klaus Schwab, for discrimination.

The former employee, Topaz Smith, who is a Black woman, alleged that during her nearly two years at the forum she was denied professional opportunities because of her race and gender. The lawsuit, which was filed in New York on Monday, claimed that the forum has “a scofflaw approach to anti-discrimination laws, permitting an atmosphere that is hostile to women and Black employees”.

In one instance, Smith alleged, she was told by a white manager to think of her boss, who was also white, as her “master”. Smith said public-facing opportunities at the Davos conference were typically reserved for white employees.

Smith claimed she was fired in February in retaliation for having a child, alleging the forum replaced her during her maternity leave with a “non-pregnant, white employee”.

“It is long past time that the Forum and Mr Schwab are held to account for their horrendous pattern of sexualising and objectifying women,” said Topaz’s lawyer, Valdi Licul, a partner at the law firm Wigdor, in a statement. “The Forum and Mr Schwab should be made to understand that such discrimination is flatly unlawful in the United States.”

A spokesperson for the forum did not return a request for comment.

The lawsuit comes after other allegations about discrimination and sexual harassment at the non-profit, which hosts the global conference each January. Often referred to as Davos, it regularly makes headlines and is attended by chief executives and heads of state as well as other non-profit leaders and diplomats.

Schwab, who founded the forum, said in May that he would step down as the organisation’s executive chair and take on a new role as chair of the WEF’s board of trustees.

Last month, an article in The Wall Street Journal detailed numerous allegations of employee harassment and discrimination, and claimed Schwab had made sexual advances or inappropriate comments to some female forum employees. The report said young, female forum employees were often the subject of unwanted advances at its annual conference, and that the non-profit did little to police the behaviour.

The forum, in a statement to the WSJ, said the article “mischaracterise[s] our organisation, culture and colleagues, including our founder”.

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