The founder of a Centennial business incubator is being accused by two former employees of sexual harassment and assault.
Waqar “Vic” Ahmed, who started and runs Innovation Pavilion and sits on various technology boards, was sued last week by a 48-year-old mother of three for civil damages related to alleged repeated sexual assaults.
Suzy Gutierrez claims in her lawsuit that Ahmed, 55, repeatedly groped her breasts and reached his hands under her dress on planes and in hotel bars. One other former employee told BusinessDen this week she faced similar harassment.
Ahmed and his lawyer declined to comment when reached Tuesday.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Denver District Court and seeks unspecified damages, claims Gutierrez started working for Innovation Pavilion in 2012 while finishing up an MBA at Regis University. She quit Innovation Pavilion in June 2017 after alleged repeated sexual assaults left her fearing for her safety and marriage.
“He thinks women who work for him are objects that can be marginalized,” Gutierrez said in an interview with BusinessDen on Tuesday.
She said that until the alleged sexual assaults began in 2017, she loved her job planning events for the coworking incubator, which hosts networking sessions and leases space to startups from its 80,000-square-foot space at 9200 E. Mineral Ave.
Last week’s lawsuit claims that in 2017 Gutierrez started traveling to Arizona and Georgia to pitch local municipalities on hiring Innovation Pavilion to build incubators. Ahmed would travel with her.
“Ahmed used these business trips as an opportunity to try and cultivate a sexual relationship with Ms. Gutierrez,” the lawsuit claims.
Gutierrez said that on plane rides and in hotel bars – including the Hilton Denver Inverness in the Tech Center – Ahmed would order several drinks to corner booths. Then he’d grope her, the suit claims.
On a trip to Arizona, Ahmed allegedly reached under her dress. “As defendant Ahmed pressed against her, with his hands all over her body, she was unable to leave,” the lawsuit claims, adding “Ahmed’s actions were so unexpected and unwanted that Ms. Gutierrez was paralyzed by fear.”
A few days later, Gutierrez said, she told Ahmed that she has been married for more than 20 years and was not interested in a romantic relationship.
But on the next business trip, Ahmed barged into her hotel in Atlanta and insisted on watching her while she finished her hair and makeup, the lawsuit claims.
“When defendant Ahmed boldly asked Ms. Gutierrez not to wear underwear to dinner, she responded that she absolutely would not agree to that and told him to leave and get himself ready for dinner.”
The following day, Gutierrez and Ahmed went to a movie after a day of meetings, when she claims she started feeling woozy and faded in and out of consciousness. She claims she only remembers bits and pieces of that night, but woke up naked in her hotel bed, she said.
“The only thing she knew for sure was that her boss had taken physical advantage of her while she was unconscious,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed by Darold Killmer and Mari Newman from the firm Killmer, Lane & Newman.
In the interview Tuesday, Gutierrez said she asked Ahmed what happened the previous night, and he told her they kissed. She said she was disgusted and later sought medical attention and had an STD test.
“I want to make sure the business community knows what he’s capable of, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” she said.
Another former employee claims it also happened to her.
Nicole Regalado, 25, said in an interview with BusinessDen she was harassed by Ahmed. She worked for Innovation Pavilion in 2015 and 2016 after graduating college.
She said Ahmed would promise mentorship meetings but instead sought sexual favors. She said Ahmed met her at the Inverness Hotel to talk about her future at the company, then pivoted the discussion to his sexuality. Regalado said Ahmed took out his phone and showed her pictures of a naked female colleague.
“I was so uncomfortable. The bar we were in – there weren’t a lot of people. He suggested going downstairs and I thought maybe there would be more people there,” Regalado said. But Ahmed led her downstairs to an empty hallway with no security cameras and a door going outside, she said.
“He turns around and sticks his tongue down my throat.” Regalado said she tried to get away, but Ahmed grabbed her from behind, pulled her on top of him on a bench, lifting her shirt up and groping her breasts.
Regalado, who was 23 at the time, said she ran for her car and locked the door. She said Ahmed walked up and wagged his finger at her. “I remember sitting there and feeling so violated and just so gross.”
Regalado said after that incident, she refused to enter a room alone with Ahmed. But she claims he kept harassing her, at one point sending her text messages stating that he wanted to see her and another co-worker perform sexually for him.
“I would never reply or answer, and I pretended they didn’t happen,” Regalado said. “I was just so young and naïve, looking back now.”
BusinessDen reporter Kate Tracy contributed to this report.