A woman alleged in 2011 that Andrew Yang, then the CEO of a tutoring company, paid her substantially less money than two similar male employees and abruptly fired her after she pressed him over the disparity, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The woman was paid a termination settlement by the education services company Kaplan, which had acquired Yang’s company, after she said in a letter to Kaplan’s human resources department that he had “acted in a discriminatory manner” and breached a contract by firing her.
“Andrew always spoke positively of my work and my value to the company. This changed only when I approached him about the disparity of my salary compared to male colleagues in similar roles,” the woman, whose name is being withheld at her request because of fear of online harassment, told BuzzFeed News in a statement.
She added, “I believe Andrew fired me as retaliation for asking to be paid a salary that was still significantly less than what he was paying my male counterparts.”
Yang, now a presidential candidate, has built a surprisingly popular brand in the Democratic primary race in large part on his background as an entrepreneur. He has lasted in the race longer than much more established and conventional candidates, and has outperformed many of the traditional candidates who remain.
BuzzFeed News provided the Yang campaign detailed questions about the woman’s allegations. In a statement, spokesperson S.Y. Lee said only: "Like many CEOs, Andrew Yang has had the unfortunate task of letting staff go who did not meet the organization’s standards. The information provided by the letter-writer does not reflect the reality of the situation.”
She is the second woman to allege that Yang discriminated against her based on gender while he was CEO of the tutoring company, which was called Manhattan GMAT. Another woman, Kimberly Watkins, said in September that Yang fired her from the company because she had gotten married, adding that he assumed she would not want to work as hard. Watkins claimed she was paid a severance stipend for two years as a settlement after the firing.
In an appearance on The View in September, Yang said there was “zero truth” to Watkins’ allegations. “I'm happy to say, I've had so many phenomenal women leaders that have elevated me and my organizations at every phase of my career, and if I was that kind of person I would never have had any success," he said.
The second woman’s claims, in some ways, echo those of Watkins. She said she was abruptly terminated by Yang after hearing no negative feedback about her performance. And she believed that the reason she was fired was tied to her gender.
In the 2011 letter to Kaplan’s human resources department obtained by BuzzFeed News, the woman said she was making $87,000 a year at Manhattan GMAT when Yang hired two men with salaries of $125,000, plus a $50,000 “relocation bonus.” She knew the men’s salaries because she had sent them their offer letters at Yang’s request, the woman told BuzzFeed News.
The woman, who had a graduate degree from a prestigious university, had been at the company for two years. She told BuzzFeed News she frequently performed work outside her own department relating to her specialization. She was almost immediately asked to assign work to one of the men who was making nearly twice her income, she alleged to Kaplan in the letter, and they continued to perform comparable jobs.
BuzzFeed News spoke with another former employee of Manhattan GMAT who corroborated details of the woman’s story.
Yang’s campaign connected BuzzFeed News with a current employee of Manhattan GMAT, now called Manhattan Prep, who worked at the company in 2010 and 2011 and disputed the idea that the two men had worked at the same level as the woman who made the allegations against Yang. The current employee also did not want to be named because of privacy concerns.
The woman and the two men “weren’t in the same role,” the current employee said; the men had more direct reports and did jobs that “pushed the business forward.” The fact that the woman had assigned work to the men was common in a small company, the current employee said, and not indicative that they were working at similar levels.
“I never saw or experienced this type of discrimination,” the current employee, who is also a woman, said.
The woman who wrote the complaint to Kaplan said she twice raised the issue of the pay disparity directly to Yang. The first time, he offered her a promotion to the same level as the men, but did not give her a raise, she said in the letter. The second time, she wrote, he gave her a raise to $102,000, but simultaneously cut her salary by 30% because she had recently moved from New York to Washington, DC, to live with her boyfriend, and was now working remotely. That resulted in an effective pay cut, the woman said in the letter.
The woman said that she and Yang eventually agreed that she would work at the company until she went to graduate school that fall, and Yang agreed he would continue to pay her at the 70% rate for two months after she began school. But weeks after she pressed Yang on the pay disparity, he called her and fired her, she alleged to Kaplan.
Yang had never raised any substantial issues with her performance, the woman said to Kaplan. Instead, he told her he needed to make “budget cuts.” His company had just been acquired by Kaplan, and he was planning on leaving.
The woman told BuzzFeed News that she believed there was only one reason for Yang to fire her: questions about why she was being paid tens of thousands of dollars less than the male employees.
She told Kaplan that Yang had breached their agreement by firing her — denying her several months of income and health insurance. And she said she believed Yang had “irrevocably tarnished [her] professional reputation” when he fired her abruptly, without giving her a chance to say goodbye to colleagues or finish projects.
“In my experience, Andrew is yet another businessman who doesn’t think that women deserve to be compensated the same as men for the same work,” the woman told BuzzFeed News. “Watching him disingenuously promote himself as a feminist candidate has been extremely disheartening.”