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A Silicon Valley venture capitalist accused of sexual harassment and assault is temporarily leaving his top roles at Sherpa Capital and Hyperloop One, to fight what he says is a “smear campaign” against him.
Shervin Pishevar, an early investor in Uber and ally of its ousted former chief executive Travis Kalanick, has been accused of improper conduct by five women.
On Wednesday, the public relations firm he is suing described his claims of a campaign against him as “delusional” and filed a legal motion to have the case dismissed.
The accusations against Mr Pishevar come after two prominent tech venture capitalists admitted making unwanted advances on female entrepreneurs looking for funding early this year, and amid the wave of workplace harassment allegations against high-profile men which followed revelations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Mr Pishevar is a co-founder and co-executive chairman of Hyperloop One, a transport company whose board includes Richard Branson, and co-founder of Sherpa Capital, which has $650m under management and whose investments include Uber, Airbnb and messaging service Slack.
After detailed allegations that Mr Pishevar had made unwanted sexual advances towards five women were published by Bloomberg last week, two Democratic senators — Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — announced they were giving campaign donations from Mr Pishevar to charity.
Mr Pishevar denies the claims. In a statement responding to the accusations reported by Bloomberg, an attorney for Mr Pishevar wrote: “We are confident that these anecdotes will be shown to be untrue.”
But on Tuesday, Mr Pishevar announced that he was voluntarily taking a leave of absence from work “to eliminate any potential distraction” to Hyperloop, Sherpa, and the company boards on which he sits as an investor.
He has filed suit against Definers Public Affairs, a consultancy group which provides opposition research, accusing it of “orchestrat[ing] and implement[ing] a malicious smear campaign” against him, according to legal documents filed at a San Francisco court.
The company denies the allegations — or that it ever worked on anything to do with Mr Pishevar. Arguing that Mr Pishevar’s lawsuit was intended as a “diversionary tactic” and to intimidate critics, Definers filed a motion on Wednesday to have it thrown out.
“Mr Pishevar’s claims were delusional and entirely without merit,” said Tim Miller, a partner at Definers. The motion says Definers does “not have any emails or documents reflecting any engagements, communications, or work related to Mr Pishevar before the filing of the complaint.”
As an observer on Uber’s board from 2011 to 2015, Mr Pishevar was regarded as being close to Mr Kalanick, who stepped down amid a sexual harassment scandal at the ride-hailing company.
In the boardroom squabble between Mr Kalanick and Benchmark, one of Uber’s biggest shareholders, Mr Pishevar has firmly sided with Mr Kalanick. In an unusual statement, circulated to media after Mr Pishevar weighed into a legal tussle between Mr Kalanick and Benchmark in August, he praised Mr Kalanick’s “fervent hard work” and characterised his opponents as an “unholy alliance of perfidious greed”.