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Venture capitalist accused of sexual assault in latest #MeToo charges  3 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

SAN FRANCISCO — A Silicon Valley venture capitalist stands accused of sexually assaulting a young female entrepreneur during a flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis, another in a wave of allegations buffeting the technology industry.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Rachel Danae Vachata, 29, alleges Lucio Lanza sexually assaulted her during an overnight commercial flight to Chicago in July 2017.

Lanza groped her breast and crotch and tried to kiss her, and at one point inserted his hands between her legs while seated next to her on the red-eye flight, according to the complaint.

Vachata, who has founded two companies, says Lanza bragged that he could make or break her latest start-up, boasting that he was friends with Steve Jobs and had worked at Intel.

Lanza did not respond to a request for comment after calls were made to his firm, Lanza techVentures. A spokesperson said: "Lucio has no idea of what he is being accused of. As far as he remembers, he was on a plane talking to this woman about her start-up."

Vachata reported the attack to a fellow passenger who was an off-duty pilot and to airline personnel. The attack was also reported to law enforcement, according to her attorney, David Lowe.

On her connecting flight to Chicago, Vachata says she suffered an anxiety attack and lost consciousness on the plane due to the stress and humiliation of Lanza's actions, according to the complaint. Medical personnel attended to her when the plane landed.

Lowe said the assault fits "a shocking pattern of Silicon Valley elites using their power and influence to exploit and denigrate women."

The lawsuit, which seeks damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees and costs, comes after other leading venture capitalists have seen their careers derailed by allegations of misconduct.

Last year as the nation wrestled with a flood of #MeToo stories from the entertainment, sports, political and business worlds, women entrepreneurs broke their silence on sexism in the clubby world of venture capital.

The results included Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck, 500 Startups founder Dave McClure and former Tesla board member and Draper Fisher Jurvetson’s Steve Jurvetson losing their positions.

The stories shed new light on the pattern of suggestive remarks and sexual propositions, casual misogyny, groping and assaults that hinders the capital-raising process for women and contributes to the huge gender gap in start-up funding.

Women-led startups receive 2% of funding from venture capitalists. And 7% of venture capitalists are women, with many top firms in Silicon Valley without a single female investing partner.

On July 28, Vachata, co-founder of medical device companies Mallium and Dynamic Surgical and named to Forbes list of 30 under 30 in the health care field, boarded a flight to Minnesota en route to Chicago.

She says Lanza, who was seated next to her, spotted her company's logo and struck up a conversation. A flight attendant interrupted to inform Lanza that he was sitting in the wrong seat, which belonged to an off-duty pilot.

But Lanza returned to talk with Vachata while standing in the aisle. According to Lanza's website, he has "an uncanny ability to identify and mentor promising technologists as they develop their ideas."

Eventually the off-duty pilot offered to switch seats with Lanza, whom Vachata says showed signs of inebriation. That's when Vachata alleges Lanza pulled her by the arm and grabbed her right breast.

Vachata says she pushed away his hand, but he only became more aggressive, trying to kiss her on the mouth and cheek. According to the complaint, she tried to block his assault and said "no" and "stop."

"Throughout the assault, Defendant went on about his power in the industry in which Ms. Vachata works and how he has the capability to 'make or break' her career. He stated that he was interested in investing in her company, as he had similarly done in his son’s company," the complaint says. 

"Ms. Vachata tried to end the conversation. Defendant then inserted his hand in Ms. Vachata’s crotch area and tried to push his hand up between her legs around her vaginal area. Defendant kept his hand in Ms. Vachata’s crotch area as he continued to talk at Ms. Vachata in his drunken state."

After the plane began its descent, Lanza returned to his seat and Vachata reported the assault to the off-duty pilot. Before her connecting flight, she also reported the assault to the airline.

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