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Claire Wasserman, founder of the group Ladies Get Paid, had a simple goal of starting a space for women.

She wanted to give women a place where they could ask salary negotiation questions and feel at ease sharing career-related concerns. That was 18 months ago.

Now, Wasserman leads the for-profit company that trains women leaders, organizes events and conferences around the country and gives them a space to talk about salaries, mentorship and other workplace issues. In 2017, Ladies Get Paid hosted 160 events nationwide. Wasserman dedicated her work life to the project, quitting her job over a year ago to better invest in her start-up group.

Her intentions were not well received by everyone. Seven months ago, Wasserman had to weigh her options after Ladies Get Paid was sued for gender discrimination. Would she have to shut down her fledgling company, or would she be able to financially soldier on? It was a difficult ordeal she wasn’t permitted to publicly talk about until now.

“I started the group because I didn’t feel like I had a place I could go to about some s**t I was going through at work,” Wasserman says. “What is negotiating? How do I negotiate? I had these awkward networking experiences where I really felt objectified by guys.”

A week after starting a Slack group for these questions, Wasserman quit her job. “I could instantly see other women were experiencing this, too.”

Members from the National Coalition for Men, a group that “addresses the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys,” were turned away from two Ladies Get Paid events aimed at women and non-binary individuals. At an August happy hour in San Diego, organizers turned away a man they didn’t recognize. At a September town hall in Los Angeles, two men were turned away. Two of the three men later filed two lawsuits.

One of the men even came to another event to serve the lawsuit to one of the Ladies Get Paid organizers just as she had taken the stage, publicly humiliating her.

And that’s when Wasserman almost lost Ladies Get Paid.

Under California’s Civil Rights laws, excluding men from these events qualified as gender discrimination. Wasserman and Ladies Get Paid were sued, as were the six volunteer ambassadors who organized the events and the two sponsors who hosted them. The two different suits spread over several months and Wasserman was stunned by the legal challenges facing her and her team.

“This had all been predicated on giving women space to open up to each other,” she says. “If there were men in the room or in the Slack, we would censor ourselves or the conversation would be different.”

In response to the suit, she says she changed the group policy to open the events to all genders and informed 19 chapters throughout the country to do the same. The updated policy remains in effect.

Eventually, Wasserman settled. In the meantime though, Ladies Get Paid racked up hefty legal fees. A fundraiser she launched on Tuesday asks for help to offset the costs.

She wonders why her small start-up, which is largely run by volunteers, was targeted by the men’s rights group. “I think that they believe in what they’re doing,” she says. “By giving women a benefit, I’m therefore discriminating against men. But the kind of work I’m doing is to equalize the playing field. That’s why I give women benefits.”

“Now that women are getting loud with workplace rights and #MeToo, they feel threatened,” says Wasserman. “Their response to that is to try to get us to be quiet. I don’t think this is going to stop anytime soon. It’s why we need these spaces in the first place.”

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