Venture capitalist Mike Rothenberg and his firm are facing a lawsuit brought forth by the investor’s former chief of staff who alleges Rothenberg engaged in a “systematic and clandestine scheme” to properly pay wages to his employees. The plaintiff, Katie Fanelli , believes that there are others responsible so it’s possible the complaint will be amended. She and others in this class action suit are seeing an undisclosed amount of compensatory damages, back pay with interest, and attorney fees.
This is the latest headache for Rothenberg, who has been embroiled in a scandal involving the operations of his firm and is reportedly the subject of an Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation.
Documents were filed with the Superior Court of California in the County of San Francisco on September 30. And it’s not just unpaid wages Rothenberg is being accused of, but also failure to indemnify employees for expenses and also paying out vested paid time off.
In the court filing, Fanelli states that she doesn’t believe that Rothenberg may not bear sole responsibility, believing that there may be up to 50 additional defendants that could be added at a later time to the complaint. She alleges that:
“[Rothenberg Ventures Management Company’s] clandestine program of failing to pay its employees for all hours worked is, in part, carried out through its culture. Defendant gives employees work assignments. The employees perform the work and the Defendant severs and/or terminates their employment without compensating them for all hours worked by failing to provide them with their final pages to cover wages earned.”
Founded in 2012, Rothenberg Ventures aimed to “build communities and solve problems.” It made investments in virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, computer vision, machine learning, drones, robotics, space, autonomous vehicles, and more. Two years later, it created River Studios, a virtual reality accelerator. However, all of that soon came crumbling down with key employees departing, allegations of embezzlement , and investigations by law enforcement of the firm.
According to her LinkedIn profile , Fanelli joined Rothenberg Ventures in July 2015, only to depart more than a year later. By this time, the firm was imploding, with reports saying it “apparently ran out of operating money” and investors wondering whether Rothenberg had lost control of his business. Her lawsuit isn’t the only one Rothenberg is facing, as his former finance director is also claiming that the VC failed to reimburse for $109,000 in charges made on a personal American Express credit card.
Last month, Rothenberg Ventures rebranded itself to Frontier Tech Ventures , perhaps in a way to try and move past the turmoil. However, Rothenberg remains with the firm.
We’ve reached out to Rothenberg and Fanelli for comment and will update if we hear back.
The court case is Katie Fanelli, et al. v Rothenberg Ventures Management Company, LLC.