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San Francisco tech company sued over ‘frat boy culture,’ sexual harassment claims

A silver-colored brushed metal sign mounted to a brick wall shines in sunlight. On the sign in lower case black lettering is a company logo.
A senior manager at the San Francisco cybersecurity software company Splunk alleges that he was fired after raising the alarm about the company’s 'frat boy culture.' | Source: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

A senior manager at the San Francisco cybersecurity software company Splunk alleges that he was fired after raising the alarm about the company’s “frat boy culture,” including sexual harassment and pay issues.

Attorneys for Robert Christian are suing Splunk for sexual harassment, retaliation, breach of contract and unlawful business practices in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.

Christian, a former senior sales engineer manager at Splunk, is demanding damages for emotional distress, economic damages and civil penalties, among other fees.

“We are proud to represent Robert Christian who is calling out Splunk for its frat boy culture that breaks its promises to its mission-critical salesforce,” Young Park, one of the attorneys representing Christian, wrote in a statement to The Standard.

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The lawsuit against Splunk was filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Christian claims a newly hired female supervisor grabbed his crotch, slapped his bottom and made “crass and provocative comments” about him, including comments about his genitals while drinking at an off-site meeting in Plano, Texas, in April 2022. Other supervisors witnessed this conduct, the suit asserts.

At a company meeting in Las Vegas two months later, the same supervisor “became inebriated and very flirty” with Christian and other people at the meeting, the suit states.

“When Mr. Christian tried to stay away,” the suit reads, “…she became angry and hurled a series of abusive statements toward him.” Other workers complained about her conduct, according to the suit.

The lawsuit further alleges that Christian, a 13-year employee up until his termination, became “a target for abuse and retaliation” by executives after complaining about company changes to salespeople’s compensation structure around the time of the Plano incident.

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In June 2022, Adnan Hindi, a vice president at the company, allegedly asked Christian’s manager to put him on a performance improvement plan, or PIP, and she refused. Hindi also allegedly met with Christian around this time and told him he was trying to create a case against him at the company. Around this time, Christian’s concerns about retaliation against him saw Splunk’s human resources department open an investigation based on his complaints.

But the “glacier speed” investigation meant that little had been done to resolve Christian’s issues. By February 2023, Hindi allegedly “led an initiative” to sabotage Christian’s career, the lawsuit alleges. Christian’s team, including his direct report, were allegedly transferred away from him. His supervisor was also allegedly terminated, in part, for not putting him on a performance plan.

The new supervisor assigned to him was the same individual who allegedly sexually harassed him in Las Vegas and Plano. And at the 2023 Vegas company meeting, she “began flirting … and stated that they should collaborate together for an upcoming presentation in one of their hotel rooms.”

After rejecting her advances, she began retaliating against Christian shortly after by criticizing his work in emails, Zoom calls and Slack messages, the suit says. He was then allegedly denied a chance to apply for a director-level position. Then she allegedly tried to set Christian up on a “trumped-up coaching plan” intended to set him up for failure.

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The final blow: Christian followed up on the HR investigation after over one year. He heard back on Aug. 8, 2023 from a staffer who said that “she was unable to corroborate” any of his claims. A day later, he was fired from Splunk.

A Splunk spokesperson declined to comment to The Standard, citing pending litigation. Silicon Valley telecommunications stalwart Cisco announced in September that it would buy Splunk in a massive $28 billion cash deal, the largest deal ever made by the longtime tech company.