Six weeks ago, on a Thursday morning in early December, The Verge published what would become a viral article on the behind-the-scenes workings of luggage unicorn Away. According to the article, entitled, “Emotional Baggage,” the 4-year old luggage startup, which nabbed a $1.4 billion valuation this summer, was being run by a co-founder and CEO that Forbes summarized as “a mercurial micro-manager and cruel boss who belittles employees and demands too much from them.”
The Verge asserted in its nearly 5,000 article that as one half of the venture’s founding duo, Stephanie Korey was responsible for helping to sell “a vision of travel and inclusion,” but as the Vox Media-owned technology news site also alleged in its so-called “hit piece,” a handful of “former employees say [that vision merely] masked a toxic work environment.”
Within four days of the article being published and in the mist of its lingering virality (the original article has been followed up by one purporting that some Away “employees worked without heat,” while others, who were responsible for monogramming the buzzy bags, allegedly “struggled with headaches and nausea”), Away revealed that Korey would be replaced as CEO by Lululemon COO Stuart Haselden. Meanwhile, Korey revealed on Twitter that she was “making things right” at the company, and said that she was “not proud of my behavior in [the] moments [reflected in The Verge’s article].”
“I’m sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it,” Korey tweeted. “It was wrong, plain and simple.”
Haselden was expected to begin his tenure as CEO today, with Korey to become executive chairman of Away’s board. However, as the New York Times revealed in an article this morning, Korey is back, and will serve as co-CEO alongside Haselden.
Maybe even more interesting than The Verge’s articles and the subsequent C-level switch-a-roo that ensued at Away is the fact that the luggage company is now telling the Times that “it disputes The Verge’s reporting” and has enlisted legal counsel. And not just any counsel, Away has retained Elizabeth M. Locke, the Washington, DC-based lawyer who represented University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo in the May 2015 lawsuit that she filed against Rolling Stone magazine and journalist Sabrina Erdely.
According to her highly-publicized $7.5 million defamation suit, Eramo claimed that Erdely’s since-retracted 2014 article, “A Rape on Campus” – which centered on an alleged rape by several fraternity members at the University of Virginia in September 2012 – included “highly defamatory and false statements about [her],” which “were not the result of an innocent mistake,” but instead, “the result of a wanton journalist … and a malicious publisher, who was more concerned about selling magazines to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine, than they were about discovering the truth or actual facts.
In April 2017 two years after the suit was filed and following from a November 2016 jury verdict, which awarded Eramo $3 million on the basis that Rolling Stone and Erdely defamed her, the parties settled confidentially.
According to the Times, it is “unclear” whether Away plans to have Locke initiate a similar legal battle on its own behalf. It is also unclear the extent of the damage that has been done to Away as a result of the allegedly inaccurate article. However, what is clear is that The Verge is standing by its story. “Steph Korey responding to our reporting by saying her behavior and comments were ‘wrong, plain and simple’ and then choosing to step down as CEO speaks for itself,” the publication’s editor-in-chief Nilay Patel said in a statement to the Times.
As for Korey, she told the Times that the article “mischaracterized her” and that Away “let some inaccurate reporting influence the timeline of a transition plan that we [already] had.” She says that the company will “contemplate its ‘legal options’ after The Verge responds to its ‘demands for retractions and corrections,’” as reported by CNBC.
To date, the Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin notes that “The Verge has published several updates, clarifications and corrections,” dated December 5 and 6, but says that “it is hard to judge if Ms. Korey herself has changed.”