Hyperloop One's Shervin Pishevar on leave amid harassment claims

Shervin Pishevar is stepping away from Hyperloop One and Sherpa Capital after accusations of sexual misconduct by five women.

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Hyperloop Technologies co-founder Shervin Pishevar speaks at Web Summit 2015.

Venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar says he's the target of a smear campaign.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

A Silicon Valley venture capitalist accused of sexual harassment and assault is taking leave from his roles at Hyperloop One and Sherpa Capital to focus on legal action about what he calls a "smear campaign" against him.

Shervin Pishevar, an early investor in Uber, has been accused of sexually assaulting or harassing five women he met in a professional context, according to a Bloomberg report last month. Pishevar filed a lawsuit last month against Definers Public Affairs, accusing the public relations firm of carrying out a "malicious smear campaign."

Pishevar said Tuesday he had "decided to take an immediate leave of absence from my duties at Sherpa Capital and Virgin Hyperloop One, as well as my portfolio company board responsibilities, so that I can pursue the prosecution of my lawsuit, where I am confident I will be vindicated."

Definers Public Affairs has denied any involvement in work related to Pishevar.

The development is the latest in a slew of controversies involving men behaving badly in the tech world, as well as in entertainment, politics and media. The incidents have prompted several executives at venture capital funds to step down, and raises broader questions of how women are treated in these fields.

Sherpa Capital, the venture capital firm Pishevar co-founded, said it respected and supported his decision to take a leave of absence while he pursues legal action. The firm also said it planned to conduct an independent internal review to "ensure our practices and operations continue to reflect the highest professional and ethical standards.

"We recognize the inherent challenges of reporting misconduct, but note that Sherpa has never received a sexual harassment complaint," the firm said in a statement Tuesday.

Pishevar's alleged victims, who requested anonymity, accused him of exploiting the promise of a professional connection to make an unwanted sexual advance, Bloomberg reported. One of the accusers is Austin Geidt, Uber's head of global expansion, who was the target of unsolicited touching on her leg by Pishevar during a party, the news agency reported.

This isn't the first time Pishevar has been accused of sexual misconduct. He was arrested in May for allegedly sexual assaulting a 31-year-old woman in a London hotel, but wasn't charged, according to a Fast Company report in November. The City of London Comptroller's office said later that a police report into the allegations was not compiled by or on behalf of the City of London police and "uses terminology and details which are not familiar" to that police force.

Pishevar isn't the only VC to have allegedly harassed women. Steve Jurvetson, one of Silicon Valley's most high-profile venture capitalists, left his namesake firm, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, last month amid a sexual harassment investigation, according to Recode. Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck left his job in June after a story in The Information said he'd allegedly made sexual advances at female entrepreneurs.

Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker told Bloomberg on Monday that they were both donating Pishevar's campaign contributions, $19,000 and $15,000 respectively, to organizations that support women dealing with sexual violence.

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