Organizer of World Economic Forum in Davos Accused of Discrimination

A former employee of the World Economic Forum, the nonprofit organization behind the glittery annual gathering of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland, sued the group and its founder, Klaus Schwab, on Monday, accusing them of workplace discrimination.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Topaz Smith, who is Black, said the organization embraced a “scofflaw approach to anti-discrimination laws” and oversaw a hostile atmosphere toward women and Black workers.

She added that it denied her and other Black employees opportunities to advance professionally.

The accusations are the latest black eye for the nonprofit, whose conferences — particularly the one in Davos in January — have become destinations for the global elite to meet and network under the auspices of saving the world. (The theme of this year’s forum in Davos was “Rebuilding Trust,” while last year’s was “Cooperation in a Fragmented World.”)

An article in The Wall Street Journal last month, citing internal complaints and interviews with current and former employees, said workers had accused the organization of sexual harassment and racism.

Those behaviors extended all the way to Mr. Schwab, the outgoing executive chairman of the organization, according to the article.

The report was cited in the lawsuit by Ms. Smith, who said she had directly experienced discriminatory acts in her two years working for the group’s consulting arm. One executive told her to consider her boss “her master,” she said, and the organization did not pay for her to travel to the Davos conference to participate in panels she had organized. But, according to the lawsuit, it paid for white employees to do so.

Ms. Smith accused the organization of essentially firing her this year after she returned to work from federally protected maternity leave, and of replacing her with a white woman who was not pregnant.

In a statement, a representative for the World Economic Forum said, “While it’s disappointing to see such false claims being made, now that these matters are in court, the falsity of these claims will become evident.”

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