A former employee of Boston AI startup DataRobot is suing the company, saying she was fired after complaining about alleged financial mismanagement and resisting committing potential accounting fraud.
Raquel Vazquez worked at DataRobot’s San Francisco office for one year as senior director of business management and operations, until she was let go in May as the company was cutting 7 percent of its workforce. Her lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco alleges the company and its former chief executive Dan Wright engaged in whistleblower retaliation, discrimination, and wrongful termination, among other violations.
“The company had a very toxic culture,” Vazquez said in an interview with the Globe. “During a financial planning session [in the spring of 2021], I was asked to go back to previous quarters, from when I was not even working there, to change financial records.” Vazquez said she was eventually fired after she refused.
DataRobot denied wrongdoing. “DataRobot denies the allegations in Ms. Vazquez’s complaint,” the company said in a statement to the Globe. “These allegations misrepresent the facts and are wholly without merit. DataRobot will defend itself against these claims.” The company is seeking to have the case moved to federal court.
Marina Tsatalis, an attorney for Wright, declined to comment.
Vazquez’s lawyer, John Winer at Winer, Burritt & Scott, said he would oppose moving the case to federal court.
The company was once one of Boston’s most promising startups, hitting a private valuation of $6 billion in mid-2021. But after disappointing business results and an employee revolt under chief executive Wright, the company struggled and has laid off about one-third of its staff this year. Former Google and Amazon executive Debanjan Saha replaced Wright in July.
Wright, and other executives who worked for him, falsely promised that DataRobot was close to going public, Vazquez said in her lawsuit. She said in the lawsuit that she was lured to join the company from Cisco Systems in May 2021 by the chance to make $500,000 from an increase in the value of stock she would receive.
Once she started working in a role managing projects and budgets for the marketing department, Vazquez witnessed “troubling financial issues,” such as unchecked spending on corporate credit cards, inaccurate employee rosters, and requests to recategorize past spending transactions, the lawsuit said. The company “was in no way, shape, or form ready for an IPO in 2021 or 2022,” according to the lawsuit.
“Nearly every representation made to [Vazquez] about what it would be like to work at DataRobot was false,” the lawsuit stated.
The allegations in the complaint go beyond the controversy that arose over the summer at DataRobot that led to the departure of Wright as CEO. In June, The Information reported that Wright and four other executives had been allowed to sell $32 million of shares in the company at a time when other employees could not sell shares. Employees also took to social media to complain about excessive promotional spending for marketing events. Wright resigned in July and was replaced by Saha.
That all happened after Vazquez was let go in May of this year. Vazquez was cut despite earning a performance ranking of “exceptional” and being designated as a “critical” employee in December 2021, the lawsuit stated.
Vasquez, an Air Force veteran who served in combat roles in Afghanistan before working at Cisco, said she was mocked for being a single mother, an older employee, and for having suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after she returned to civilian life.
In one case, a supervisor told Vazquez “we don’t want to disturb your PTSD” when Vazquez was trying to talk about financial issues she had discovered, according to the lawsuit. The remark “came out of nowhere and had no bearing on the issues being discussed,” the lawsuit said.
At other times, another executive made comments about Vazquez’s hair and dress, the lawsuit said.
“I felt I was targeted,” she told the Globe. “I felt I was discriminated against.”