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Ex-employee sues Specialized for wrongful dismissal, alleges sexual harassment

Published December 22, 2020

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (BRAIN) — A former Specialized Bicycle graphic designer is suing the company in a Connecticut federal court, charging that she was terminated in violation of federal and state civil rights and employment laws.

In a complaint Lauren Parenti said she "endured a hostile work environment where women were treated as less competent than men and, worse still, as sexual playthings for upper management."

Specialized released a comment to BRAIN about the suit, which the company learned of Sunday.

"Specialized is an Equal Opportunity employer that proactively strives for equity, diversity, and inclusion within our workplace. We take matters related to these issues seriously, but we cannot comment on pending litigation at this time," the statement read.

Parenti worked on bike graphics and colors on a variety of models, including the recently released Aethos road bike. She was among the Specialized employees laid off in April as the company cut costs in the early days of the pandemic lock-downs. At the time Specialized founder and CEO Mike Sinyard told BRAIN, "Regrettably, some of the people we had, who've done a fine job for us, we don't need; we have to make room for new people. I know that sounds harsh, but that's the way it is."

Parenti's suit cites that BRAIN article, saying Sinyard's remark defamed her and her fellow employees who were laid off "by declaring that they were not top talent, were no longer needed by Specialized, and had to be fired to make room for new people."

She worked for Specialized starting in 2014 from the brand's headquarters in Morgan Hill, California. In December 2019 she moved to Connecticut and continued working for Specialized remotely until she was laid off.

She has filed complaints of discrimination against Specialized with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In a 59-page complaint, Parenti charged that she and some of her fellow female employees were objectified and bullied by male supervisors and even male underlings and interns, were not compensated equally, not given credit for successful projects, and not given access to test bikes that male colleagues received, among other complaints. Parenti said she was pressured to ride a mountain bike at an event in Whistler, British Columbia, while she was pregnant, and when she refused she was forced to work in a Specialized show booth for two days. She said a "Mother's Room" at the Morgan Hill headquarters, set aside for working mothers to express breast milk for infants, had no lock, no sink, and no refrigerator, and was used as a nap room by maintenance workers.

She is asking for a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages. On Monday the court issued a summons to Specialized, which has 21 days to answer the complaint.

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