When investor Justin Caldbeck resigned from his San Francisco-based venture capital firm amid allegations of sexual harassment, he issued a statement thanking the women who had spoken out against him.
“I am deeply ashamed of my lack of self-awareness,” said the Binary Capital cofounder. “The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me.”
Privately, however, Caldbeck is threatening legal action against one of his accusers, who continues to talk openly about her experiences with the disgraced venture capitalist. BuzzFeed News has learned that Caldbeck’s lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to Niniane Wang, one of three women who went on the record with sexual harassment accusations, demanding that she stop saying that he intimidated a reporter and threatened professional retribution against other potential accusers. The letter, which was given to BuzzFeed News by a source familiar with the situation, also asked that Wang issue a public retraction of some statements she made about Caldbeck at a July business conference.
"... It has come to our attention that you have made a number of false statements about Justin in the media, most recently at a well attended Fortune media conference," reads the letter. "The intent of this letter is to request that you stop making these false statements and that you correct them."
Wang declined to comment on the letter. Caldbeck also declined to comment.
In a June article, technology news publication The Information revealed Caldbeck’s history of alleged sexual harassment, publishing accusations from six different women, including three who went on the record with their full names. Wang was one of those three; she recounted a yearlong period of alleged harassment from Caldbeck starting in August 2010 when she claims he tried to date her and on multiple occasions asked her to sleep with him. At the time, Wang, an experienced engineer who oversaw the creation of Google Desktop, was running a coworking space that was sponsored by Caldbeck’s then-employer. She initially agreed to meet with him with the understanding they would discuss business.
“There is definitely a cost to speaking out,” Wang told The Information when explaining her motivations to go public with her experience. She added that she hoped her story would encourage other women to speak out about misbehavior or unwanted advances in work settings.
Caldbeck initially denied all wrongdoing in a statement to The Information that ran when the story was published. He later issued a second statement that did not specifically address the accusations made by the women who'd accused him, but said he was “disturbed by the allegations.” Later, The Information revealed Caldbeck had threatened reporter Reed Albergotti with legal action via text message shortly after the story was published.
“Go fuck yourself reed [sic],” Caldbeck wrote. “Our lawyers will be in touch.”
Caldbeck subsequently apologized for that message, according to The Information editor Jessica Lessin.
Following the publication of the Information story, Wang continued to speak about her alleged experiences with Caldbeck. In a response to a June blog post commenting on Caldbeck’s statement, she claimed that “she had been trying for seven years” to expose the venture capitalist, and that he allegedly “kept threatening reporters,” making it difficult to get the story out.
“I do not believe that someone can harass women for 10 years, tell the people who exposed him to go fuck themselves, and then 24 hours later, thank them for bringing him self-awareness,” Wang wrote.
Following the The Information's story, another female entrepreneur, Lindsay Meyer, told the New York Times that she had been groped and kissed by Caldbeck. Other reports also said that Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake had complained about Caldbeck's behavior to her investors, causing him to be removed from his position as a company board observer.
In July, Wang appeared at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech Conference in Aspen, Colorado, and explained how she had worked closely with Albergotti on the story, joking that it had become her second job.
“In the past few months I had been working with a reporter and Justin had harassed many women by this point, including groping them, kissing them, warning them they’d never work in the industry again if they didn’t do what he wanted,” Wang said during an onstage interview. “He was very litigious and threatening. The reporter had a new mortgage and a small child and was very afraid he would lose his mortgage if Justin made good on his threats.”
Caldbeck’s letter, dated on July 27 and sent by Ivo Labar, a partner at San Francisco law firm Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP, disputed those statements from Wang. The document contends that Caldbeck never threatened Albergotti prior to the publication of the story and disputes Wang’s claims that the venture capitalist threatened people who spoke out against him.
"While Justin disputes a number of the specific allegations that have been made against him and has a different recollection of the events with you, he continues to have deep regret over making you feel uncomfortable and recognizes that it is not ok," reads the letter. "That being said, repeating other stories as facts when they are not is not something he can allow."
Lessin, when asked about Wang’s allegations, said that Caldbeck did not personally threaten Albergotti before the story’s publication. She noted, however, that the reporter had heard that Binary Capital had sent a note to its limited partners “a few weeks” prior to publication suggesting that it would defend itself and Caldbeck against any allegations.
“We were certainly under the impression that he’d fight the story vigorously,” Lessin said.
In another allegation, the letter also challenges Wang's claim made in a Pando story that Caldbeck tried to pay her off in exchange for silence. The letter includes an excerpt of an email exchange between Caldbeck and Wang purportedly from February, but it is unclear what the messages show, if anything, besides the fact that the two were communicating prior to the publication of The Information's story in June.
Labar claims that his client was given "no indication whatsoever that you were angry or uncomfortable with him." And while Labar repeatedly states the letter is not a threat and reiterates some of Caldbeck’s apologies to Wang, he also says that his client reserves the right to litigate the matter.
Labar’s letter claims that Wang’s statements injured Caldbeck’s reputation and demands that she cease making them. It also asks that Wang make a public declaration to correct the statements Caldbeck contends are false, implying there may be legal consequences should she fail to do so. Two people close to Wang told BuzzFeed News they believe Wang has no plans to comply with Caldbeck’s demands.
It’s not yet clear if Wang replied to the letter, which requested a response within 10 business days from the date it was sent; she declined to comment for this story. But the threat of legal action has not seemingly discouraged her and she discussed her experience with Caldbeck on an Aug. 9 podcast for tech publication Recode.
“A big part of the reason why I said I didn’t believe Justin Caldbeck could change overnight was that he had been doing this for 10 years and had been actively thwarting attempts to reveal him,” Wang said. “So it was not as though he was ignorant of what he was doing.”
Beyond the cease-and-desist letter his attorney sent to Wang, Caldbeck, who has not taken any legal action against his accuser, has kept a low profile. He’s avoided interviews — and further scrutiny. He has, however, updated his LinkedIn page to show that he is no longer involved at Binary Capital.
He is now “Head of Self-Reflection, Accountability & Change.”
Here is a copy of Justin Caldbeck's cease-and-desist letter to Niniane Wang:
Ryan Mac is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on the intersection of money, technology and power.
Contact Ryan Mac at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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