Business-incubator founder accused of sexual assault

Former Innovation Pavilion employee files lawsuit, claims others were also assaulted, harassed

Posted 6/11/18

The Innovation Pavilion's CEO stepped down after a former employee filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault and harassment of multiple employees of the business. Waqar “Vic” Ahmed, who also …

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Business-incubator founder accused of sexual assault

Former Innovation Pavilion employee files lawsuit, claims others were also assaulted, harassed

Posted

The Innovation Pavilion's CEO stepped down after a former employee filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault and harassment of multiple employees of the business.

Waqar “Vic” Ahmed, who also founded the company, denied the accusations in a May 31 statement.

“I had consensual relationships with co-workers,” Ahmed wrote. The “civil charges that have been brought against me that imply coercion (and) harassment, particularly sexual, however, are categorically false.”

The lawsuit was filed in Denver District Court in late May by Suzy Gutierrez, who worked for the company for nearly five years, according to the legal complaint. Innovation Pavilion, a co-working campus at 9200 E. Mineral Ave. in Centennial, offers meeting, desk and office spaces geared toward startups and entrepreneurs.

“Ahmed treated the IP workplace like his own personal playground, sexually harassing Ms. Gutierrez and other women, and forcing them to cede to his sexual desires as a condition of their professional advancement,” the complaint said.

The complaint alleges incidents ranging from Ahmed suggesting that employees participate in sexual acts to Gutierrez experiencing several incidents of groping.

'Pattern' of misconduct alleged

Gutierrez submitted her resignation June 2017 after what the complaint said were multiple instances of assault. Ahmed assaulted another employee and showed her sexually explicit photos of her boss, along with making sexual advances and exposing himself to a third employee, according to the complaint.

The complaint painted a picture of repeated assault and use of Ahmed's position to pressure workers, with allegations including the following:

A successful employee who worked in the realm of the “internet of things,” Gutierrez felt she was being passed over for opportunities to advance in the company. After approaching Ahmed with concerns, he invited her for drinks at a hotel in the nearby Inverness area to discuss her future with the company. As they talked, he moved closer and began to touch her arm. Gutierrez left the meeting as quickly as she could without offending Ahmed, the complaint said.

As she took on more responsibility, Ahmed insisted he be a part of Gutierrez's travel plans. On three business trips in spring 2017, the conduct allegedly included several instances of groping, as well as pressing against Gutierrez and preventing her from leaving. The conduct contined despite her telling Ahmed to stop.

Other employees

The lawsuit claimed two other employees were assaulted or harassed by Ahmed. According to the complaint, Ahmed invited an unnamed female employee to an Inverness-area hotel to discuss her future. Once there, he eventually led her to a hallway, where he groped her and pulled her down onto a bench.

She told another co-worker, also unnamed in the complaint, about Ahmed's conduct, who also said he sexually harassed her multiple times.

He later asked the latter employee to come on a business trip to Houston, but she declined. He invited another female employee, whom he promoted to become the manager of the employee who refused, despite her lack of relevant experience, the complaint said. The worker who refused thought she would have been promoted if she had agreed to travel and acceded to his sexual pressures.

'Despite it being consensual'

The lawsuit claims assault, battery and false imprisonment (based on holding Gutierrez in place during one alleged incident), and claims negligent supervision and retention against the Innovation Pavilion, saying it had a duty to adequately supervise Ahmed and ensure safety of employees.

Gutierrez seeks damages that include "actual economic damages" and compensatory damages including for future monetary losses, emotional pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-monetary losses, according to the complaint.

The company had “actual or constructive notice” of Ahmed's alleged assault and harassment of Gutierrez and other employees before Gutierrez left the company, according to the complaint.

“IP intends to respond to these (accusations) in the appropriate manner through the legal system, vigorously defending our strong position opposing these claims,” said Kitty Kolding, interim CEO of the company.

Ahmed, in his statement, said he is “deeply sorry,” but maintained the conduct was consensual.

“This, I know now, can in no circumstances be considered appropriate. Even though it does not cross any legal boundaries, I regret it,” Ahmed wrote, adding he owes an apology “despite it being consensual.”

He stepped down as CEO “to ensure that he can focus on this important matter,” Kolding said.

Ahmed said he'd respond in detail and with “hard evidence of texts, emails and eyewitness accounts.”

A former employee other than Gutierrez went on the record in BusinessDen, an online publication that first reported the lawsuit May 30.

Nicole Regalado, 25, told the publication that Ahmed would promise mentorship meetings but instead seek sexual favors. She described being groped and harassed by him.

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