Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Carta, an equity management "unicorn," on Friday held an all-staff meeting in which CEO Henry Ward addressed a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the company's former VP of marketing, Axios has learned from several sources.

Why it matters: The company, which recently was valued at $3.3 billion, has generated attention for its reports on gender disparities in equity ownership —often the primary source of wealth creation for startup employees.

Details: The lawsuit was brought by Emily Kramer, who was at Carta between February 2018 and November 2019.

  • Kramer alleges she was underpaid (per an employee comp audit), improperly passed over for promotion, and excluded from meetings after complaining about such issues as Carta's all-male board. She also claims Ward, her direct supervisor, effectively forced her to quit, after a meeting in which he allegedly called her an "asshole," said "no one likes you," and that she'd gotten "passes" for being a woman.
  • Axios has learned that at least one other former female Carta employee, who worked in a different department and did not directly report to Ward, is also considering a lawsuit.
  • Kramer and her lawyer declined to comment on whether she had attempted to settle with the company prior to filing suit.

Ward, during Friday's meeting, talked at length about his working relationship with Kramer.

  • A source says Ward acknowledged using the term "asshole," but said it was in the context of providing mentorship — sharing feedback from others at the company who had worked with Kramer. The source also said that Kramer "worked very well vertically," (i.e., with Ward), but needed to improve her horizontal work in order to achieve her goal of becoming a CMO at Carta or elsewhere.
  • We were unable to learn what, if anything, Ward said about Kramer's compensation claims (she did get a raise and much more equity following the audit, but neither was retroactive).

Axios also has learned that Carta seriously considered adding former True Religion CEO Chelsea Grayson to its board of directors — after Ward pledged to add a female director in 2018 — but ultimately didn't.

  • Ward didn't return requests for comment. A Carta spokesperson said that Carta is working on a statement, but it wouldn't be ready by the time this piece published.

The bottom line: Carta plays a major role in the startup ecosystem, managing employee equity and developing a private company stock exchange (for which it quietly acqui-hired Australia' MarketGrid Systems).

  • Kramer may have a tough time proving her case, but Carta stands to lose the PR battle even if it wins the legal one (shades of Pao v. Kleiner Perkins).

Update 7/28: A day after the publication of this story, Carta provided Axios with the following statement:

Gender inequality in the workplace is a real and systemic problem, particularly in Silicon Valley, however, the allegations in this case are unfounded. We will allow the court to determine the merits of the claims.
Carta spokesperson

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