SAN JOSE, Calif. — A female technology startup founder filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist for alleged sexual assault on an overnight flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis.
Rachel Danae Vachata, a 29-year-old co-founder of technology companies, alleges that 73-year-old venture capitalist Lucio Lanza “preyed on” Vachata by threatening to use his position to make or break her companies and then repeatedly groped and attempted to kiss her during the flight last July, according to the complaint filed with the Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Lanza is the founder and managing director of Lanza techVentures, based in Palo Alto. He said through his spokesperson Wednesday afternoon that he “has no idea of what he is being accused of.”
“As far as he remembers, he was on a plane talking with this woman about her startup,” said Lanza’s spokesperson Nanette Collins, in an emailed statement.
Vachata — who founded two companies (Mallium and Dynamic Surgical) since 2015, according to her LinkedIn profile — said in a statement that she decided to go public about her encounter with Lanza because “exposing sexual harassment and assault is vital.”
“Victims did not create the problem, but we will be part of the solution.” said Vachata. “We can’t be afraid to stand up for ourselves and others — safety is a basic human right.”
Vachata alleges that on a July 28 red-eye Delta Airlines flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis, Lanza sat next to her — despite having been assigned a different seat by the airline — and began talking to her after seeing her company’s logo on her computer. Her lawsuit alleges that after a flight attendant told Lanza to move back to his correct seat, he returned to sit next to Vachata when an off-duty pilot left the seat next to Vachata’s.
Lanza allegedly became physical with Vachata, grabbing her breast, attempting to kiss her and inserting his hand into her crotch area, according to the complaint. Lanza was allegedly intoxicated during the assault, slurring his words and saying he was “close friends with Steve Jobs and talked at length about his work at Intel and his investments.”
Lanza also allegedly told Vachata he had enough power in the industry to “make or break” her career and that he was interested in investing in her company.
Vachata alerted the off-duty pilot when he came back to his assigned seat beside her, and alerted the airline personnel and law enforcement, the complaint states. During her connecting flight from Minneapolis to Chicago, Vachata said she fainted due to the intense stress and trauma from the sexual assault, according to the complaint.
Vachata’s attorney David Lowe told this news organization that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident as the agency has jurisdiction over incidents that occur on flights. The FBI has not disclosed any details of its investigation to Lowe, he said.
The FBI’s San Francisco and Minneapolis offices didn’t immediately respond to messages requesting comment.
In her complaint, Vachata said an airline supervisor told her that Lanza likely was not forced to stay in his original assigned seat and not cut off from being over-served alcoholic beverages because he was a platinum member with the airline. The supervisor also told Vachata that the incident had been recorded by the company.
Lanza techVentures, founded in 2001, made its most recent public investment during a 2016 seed round in Bloomlife, a women’s health company using wearables and data to improve birth outcomes, according to Crunchbase. Bloomlife didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.