Ex-Rivian VP Files Suit, Claiming She Was Slowly Shut Out From Company Decisions Ahead of IPO

Zac Estrada

Zac Estrada is a reporter covering transportation, technology and policy. A former reporter for The Verge and Jalopnik, his work has also appeared in Automobile Magazine, Autoweek, Pacific Standard, Boston.com and BLAC Detroit. A native of Southern California, he is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. You can find him on Twitter at @zacestrada.


Laura Schwab knew she would be taking a risk by joining Rivian, the Irvine-based electric vehicle startup.

The company was in a race with Ford, Tesla and General Motors to have the first mass-market, all-electric pickup truck to market. Schwab was tasked with effectively building Rivian's sales and marketing operations from scratch, less than a year before the first orders for their R1T electric pickup truck were supposed to be met — all for a lower salary than what she'd earned in stints at Aston Martin of the Americas and Jaguar Land Rover North America.

On Nov. 20, 2020, she decided to embrace the risk and joined the team.

But she never expected she'd be shut out of the planning process for the launch of the R1T – the company's signature product. Yet that's exactly what Schwab says happened in a lawsuit filed against Rivian in the Orange County Superior Court on Nov. 4.

In the scathing 14-page lawsuit Schwab alleges that she started in a lofty role at a luxury auto maker but quickly became ostracized for what she came to see as a misogynistic culture that marginalized women. Her allegations of gender discrimination echoes other discrimination lawsuits that have dogged some of the largest tech startups amid rapid expansion and public offerings.

Schwab claims she was effectively excluded from big-picture decision-making — despite her repeated warnings that delivery dates wouldn't be met and financials that weren't penciling out.

The first court hearing with Judge Stephanie George is set for April 13.

At first, Schwab said in the lawsuit she was involved in discussions with company leaders, including founder and CEO RJ Scaringe. Her first employee evaluation was also favorable, noting that she worked well with others at Rivian "perceived to be difficult or too challenging to work with," according to the lawsuit.

But eventually the conversations with Scaringe stopped and a boy's club of close friends and early employees excluded her from meetings Schwab felt she should be in to do her job.

"This emphasis on culture resonated deeply with me as I believe that the greatest brands and companies will survive and thrive not just by the products they make but the culture they create to find and keep great talent," Schwab wrote in a Medium post published the day she filed her suit.

Through her attorney, David Lowe of Rudy Exelrod Zieff and Lowe in San Francisco, Schwab declined a request to comment further on her allegations. Rivian also declined to comment, noting that it is in a quiet period ahead of its initial public offering this week.

Founded in 2009, Rivian bills itself as a company that "want[s] to make a difference," and one for which a "collaborative culture is critical... to deliver on our mission."

Schwab's lawsuit suggests the fledgling automaker has failed to live up to that goal.

After determining the price of the R1T and related R1S SUV was too low and the company would lose money as it scaled up, Schwab told Rivian's finance director of the problem and worked to determine how much of a loss the company would take, according to the complaint. She claims she was ignored when she raised the red flag to her supervisor, Chief Commercial/Growth Officer Jiten Behl. But when a male colleague alerted Behl, he agreed the vehicle price would eventually go up.

The claim also states that Schwab at one point asked CFO Claire McDonough to attend a meeting about Rivian's sales projections and ensure the targets were reasonable. Schwab said McDonough was excluded from those meetings, too.


Schwab's suit states she told Behl the first vehicles off the production line shouldn't go to customers, but to Rivian employees who could identify any manufacturing issues that could be resolved before they reached the public. Initially brushed off, the company later adopted that plan.

She also warned that Rivian would miss its launch date target, after already being pushed from early 2020 to early 2021. In July, the company said it would deliver a few R1T trucks in September, with general deliveries starting in January, to comply with the S-1 filing stating 1,000 vehicles would reach customers in 2021.

And as Schwab gradually lost more contact with other Rivian leaders and had her tasks reassigned to men and other departments, she learned of other top female employees who weren't invited to meetings they felt they should be part of.

In mid-October, Schwab informed HR about her recent experiences. She was terminated days later by Behl after weeks of emails and communications that the complaint alleged were "perplexing," "hostile" and "inappropriate."

As part of her compensation package upon being hired in 2020, Schwab received a generous stock option plan from Rivian.

The Rivian lawsuit is just one of many instances recently in which women and employees of color at tech firms have pushed back against what they say are discriminatory and hostile workplaces.

Five women filed lawsuits against Amazon—which just this month inked a deal with Rivian—in May alleging discrimination and harassment from white managers at different offices. In August, Tesla was ordered to pay $1 million in a racial discrimination suit by a worker at its Fremont assembly plant who was subjected to slurs and epithets. Then in October, it lost another suit from a Black elevator operator after ignoring complaints of discriminatory behavior. The automaker was ordered to pay $137 million in that case.

"That is why Rivian's retaliation against me is so heartbreaking," Schwab wrote in her Medium post. "In addition to harming my family and me, it has the potential to deter other women from pursuing opportunities or from speaking out about discrimination."

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Creandum’s Carl Fritjofsson on the Differences Between the Startup Ecosystem in Europe and the U.S.

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Carl Fritjofsson
Carl Fritjofsson

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Creandum General Partner Carl Fritjofsson talks about his venture journey, why Generative-AI represents an opportunity to rethink products from the ground up, and why Q4 2023 and Q1 2024 could be "pretty bloody" for startups.

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AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development
Evan Xie

One way to measure just how white-hot AI development has become: the world is running out of the advanced graphics chips necessary to power AI programs. While Intel central processing units were once the most sought-after industry leaders, advanced graphics chips like Nvidia’s are designed to run multiple computations simultaneously, a baseline necessity for many AI models.

An early version of ChatGPT required around 10,000 graphics chips to run. By some estimates, newer updates require 3-5 times that amount of processing power. As a result of this skyrocketing demand, shares of Nvidia have jumped 165% so far this year.

Building on this momentum, this week, Nvidia revealed a line-up of new AI-related projects including an Israeli supercomputer project and a platform utilizing AI to help video game developers. For smaller companies and startups, however, getting access to the vital underlying technology that powers AI development is already becoming less about meritocracy and more about “who you know.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk scooped up a valuable share of server space from Oracle this year before anyone else got a crack at it for his new OpenAI rival, X.AI.

The massive demand for Nvidia-style chips has also created a lucrative secondary market, where smaller companies and startups are often outbid by larger and more established rivals. One startup founder compares the fevered crush of the current chip marketplace to toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. For those companies that don’t get access to the most powerful chips or enough server space in the cloud, often the only remaining option is to simplify their AI models, so they can run more efficiently.

Beyond just the design of new AI products, we’re also at a key moment for users and consumers, who are still figuring out what sorts of applications are ideal for AI and which ones are less effective, or potentially even unethical or dangerous. There’s now mounting evidence that the hype around some of these AI tools is reaching a lot further than the warnings about its drawbacks.

JP Morgan Chase is training a new AI chatbot to help customers choose financial securities and stocks, known as IndexGPT. For now, they insist that it’s purely supplemental, designed to advise and not replace money managers, but it may just be a matter of time before job losses begin to hit financial planners along with everyone else.

A lawyer in New York just this week was busted by a judge for using ChatGPT as part of his background research. When questioned by the judge, lawyer Peter LoDuco revealed that he’d farmed out some research to a colleague, Steven A. Schwartz, who had consulted with ChatGPT on the case. Schwartz was apparently unaware that the AI chatbot was able to lie – transcripts even show him questioning ChatGPT’s responses and the bot assuring him that these were, in fact, real cases and citations.

New research by Marucie Jakesch, a doctoral student from Cornell University, suggests that even users who are more aware than Schwartz about how AI works and its limitations may still be impacted in subtle and subconscious ways by its output.

Not to mention, according to data from Intelligent.com, high school and college students already – on the whole – prefer utilizing ChatGPT for help with schoolwork over a human tutor. The survey also notes that advanced students tend to report getting more out of using ChatGPT-type programs than beginners, likely because they have more baseline knowledge and can construct better and more informative prompts.

But therein lies the big drawback to using ChatGPT and other AI tools for education. At least so far, they’re reliant on the end user writing good prompts and having some sense about how to organize a lesson plan for themselves. Human tutors, on the other hand, have a lot of personal experience in these kinds of areas. Someone who instructs others in foreign languages professionally probably has a good inherent sense of when you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary vs. drilling certain kinds of verb and tense conjugations. They’ve helped many other students prepare for tests, quizzes, and real-world challenges, while computer software can only guess at what kinds of scenarios its proteges will face.

A recent Forbes editorial by academic Thomas Davenport suggests that, while AI is getting all the hype right now, other forms of computing or machine learning are still going to be more effective for a lot of basic tasks. From a marketing perspective in 2023, it’s helpful for a tech company to throw the “AI” brand around, but it’s not magically going to be the answer for every problem.

Davenport points to a similar (if smaller) whirlwind of excitement around IBM’s “Watson” in the early 2010s, when it was famously able to take out human “Jeopardy!’ champions. It turns out, Watson was a general knowledge engine, really best suited for jobs like playing “Jeopardy.” But after the software gained celebrity status, people tried to use it for all sorts of advanced applications, like designing cancer drugs or providing investment advice. Today, few people turn to Watson for these kinds of solutions. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. In that same way, Davenport suggests that generative AI is in danger of being misapplied.

While the industry and end users both race to solve the AI puzzle in real time, governments are also feeling pressure to step in and potentially regulate the AI industry. This is much easier said than done, though, as politicians face the same kinds of questions and uncertainty as everyone else.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been calling for governments to begin regulating AI, but just this week, he suggested that the company might pull out of the European Union entirely if the regulations were too onerous. Specifically, Altman worries that attempts to narrow what kinds of data can be used to train AI systems – specifically blocking copyrighted material – might well prove impossible. “If we can comply, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll cease operating,” Altman told Time. “We will try, but there are technical limits to what’s possible.” (Altman has already started walking this threat back, suggesting he has no immediate plans to exit the EU.)

In the US, The White House has been working on a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” but it’s non-binding, just a collection of largely vague suggestions. It’s one thing to agree “consumers shouldn’t face discrimination from an algorithm” and “everyone should be protected from abusive data practices and have agency over how their data is used.” But enforcement is an entirely different animal. A lot of these issues already exist in tech, and are much larger than AI, and the US government already doesn’t do much about them.

Additionally, it’s possible AI regulations won’t work well at all if they aren’t global. Even if you set some policies and get an entire nation’s government to agree, how to set similar worldwide protocols? What if US and Europe agree but India doesn’t? Everyone around the world accesses roughly the same internet, so without any kind of international standard, it’s going to be much harder for individual nations to enforce specific rules. As with so many other AI developments, there’s inherent danger in patchwork regulations; it could allow some companies, or regions, or players to move forward while others are unfairly or ineffectively stymied or held back.

The same kinds of socio-economic concerns around AI that we have nationally – some sectors of the work force left behind, the wealthiest and most established players coming in to the new market with massive advantages, the rapid spread of misinformation – are all, in actuality, global concerns. Just as the hegemony of Microsoft and Google threaten the ability of new players to enter the AI space, the West’s early dominance of AI tech threatens to push out companies and innovations from emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Central America. Left unfettered, AI could potentially deepen social, economic, and digital divisions both within and between all of these societies.

Undaunted, some governments aren’t waiting around for these tools to develop any further before they start attempting to regulate them. New York City has already set up some rules about how AI can be used during the hiring process while will take effect in July. The law requires any company using AI software in hiring to notify candidates that it’s being used, and to have independent auditors check the system annually for bias.

This sort of piecemeal figure-it-out-as-we-go approach is probably what’s going to be necessary, at least short-term, as AI development shows zero signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Though there’s some disagreement among experts, most analysts agree with Wharton professor and economist Jeremy Siegel, who told CNBC this week that AI is not yet a bubble. He pointed to the Nvidia earnings as a sign the market remains healthy and not overly frothy. So, at least for now, the feverish excitement around AI is not going to burst like a late ‘90s startup stock. The world needs to prepare as if this technology is going to be with us for a while.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe took to Instagram last weekend to answer questions from the public about his company and its future. Topics covered included new colors, sustainability, production ramp, new products and features. Speaking of which, viewers also got a first look at the company’s much-anticipated R2 platform, albeit made of clay and covered by a sheet, but hey, that’s…something. If you don’t want to watch the whole 33 minute video, which is now also on Youtube, we’ve got the highlights for you.

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