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Hot HoloLens models 'shafted by Microsoft'

Modeling biz owner alleges harassment, retaliation in tech's latest embarrassing lawsuit

By Thomas Claburn, 18 Jul 2017

Microsoft and Jonathan Plumb, program manager at Microsoft Studios, have been sued by Jennifer Kelly, founder of Seattle modeling agency Genesis Industries.

The allegations? Failing to pay for models hired to enhance HoloLens events – and for employment retaliation following allegations of discrimination and other unlawful behavior.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Seattle late last week, claims that Kelly was approached by Plumb, Microsoft producer and HoloLens program manager, in early 2015 to provide "brand ambassadors" for HoloLens promotional events.

Kelly's company, Genesis Industries, entered into a contractual relationship with CoroWare, a Microsoft-approved supplier, through which it initially got paid.

From June 2015 through December 2015, Genesis provided models for HoloLens trade events, the complaint says, under Plumb's supervision.

In August 2015, bills stopped being paid. CoroWare, according to the lawsuit, was supposed to cover travel, hotel, and wage costs, but failed to meet its obligations.

"In order to ensure the viability and success of the Microsoft demo programs, and with its own reputation on the line, GI [Genesis Industries] was forced to front its costs of travel, hotel, and wages, and then seek reimbursement," the court filing says. "Microsoft assured GI that it would be reimbursed."

The Register tried to reach CoroWare, but dialing the company's phone number leads to a recording indicating the number is blocked. The company's website says, "CoroWare is in the process of reorganization, and will be announcing a new strategic direction that will benefit shareholders." An email inquiry was not immediately answered.

The check's in the mail

GI claims it raised the issue of reimbursement with Plumb and received both assurances it would be paid and statements that it would receive ongoing work from Microsoft.

"Throughout this time period, Mr Plumb's behavior and conduct became more alarming," the complaint alleges. "He began aggressively pursuing Ms Kelly sexually and making hypersexualized comments about other females involved in GI's projects. When his advances were not reciprocated, he would retaliate through his role at Microsoft."

The court filing says Kelly learned Plumb had been drinking with an underage female GI employee and subsequently, while intoxicated, contacted Kelly and made inappropriate statements about the modeling firm's employees.

When Kelly confronted Plumb about his behavior, the lawsuit claims, he almost immediately limited GI's work and Microsoft, through CoroWare, then terminated its contract without the required 30 days' notice.

Shortly thereafter, Kelly learned the CoroWare had begun poaching GI employees, the complaint says, noting that Microsoft HoloLens demos continue to utilize former GI employees via third-party vendors.

GI has incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreimbursed expenses and millions of dollars in lost revenue, according to the complaint.

Allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment become a hot-button issue among Silicon Valley companies, as exemplified by Uber.

Neither Kelly nor her attorneys immediately responded to requests for further comment.

The Register in an email asked if Microsoft or Plumb wished to comment on the lawsuit, without detailing the nature of the litigation. "We are reviewing the complaint," a Microsoft spokesperson said in reply. "Microsoft is committed to a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture where everyone has the chance to succeed." ®

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