Andrew Yang Fired Kimberly Watkins So She Could 'Focus On Being A Wife'

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Who Is Kimberly Watkins? New Details On Woman Andrew Yang Fired After She Got Married So She Could 'Focus On Being A Wife'

Andrew Yang is one of the many candidates vying for the Democratic Party's nomination for President in 2020. Yang has no experience in politics or public service, instead coming from the worlds of business and venture capital. He claims to have a unique perspective on workforce issues and the economy. He is campaigning on the platform of improving financial security by providing a universal basic income to all people over the age of 18, whether they are employed or not. 

But one former employee of Yang's says that he once paid her to leave a job. It wasn't because he wanted to test-drive the idea of universal basic income: it was because she had gotten married and he allegedly thought she would want to focus more on her married life. 

Who is Kimberly Watkins and why did Andrew Yang fire her? Read on for all the details. 

1. The Freedom Dividend

Yang has set himself apart from the other Democratic candidates by focusing on the idea of a universal basic income — a policy that would guarantee a monthly stipend to everyone. As his campaign website says, "Andrew would implement the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income of $1,000/month, $12,000 a year, for every American adult over the age of 18. This is independent of one’s work status or any other factor. This would enable all Americans to pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future."

Yang proposes paying for the Freedom Dividend with a combination of restructuring social safety net spending and implementing a 10% Value Added Tax on the production of goods and services, similar to taxes levied in Europe. He even went so far as to preview the Freedom Dividend with 10 randomly selected people. He announced at the last debate that he would be giving ten people the Freedom Dividend, evidently as a way of piloting the program. It will be interesting to hear how a $12,000 per year raise affects the recipients, but the data probably won't be available before Yang is eliminated from the primary race. In the latest poll out of Iowa, he's polling at 2%, 20 points shy of Elizabeth Warren who is leading the pack there this week. 

2. Kimberly Watkins and Manhattan GMAT

In testimony on Pay Equity to NYC Commission on Gender Equity and in a follow-up essay in the Gotham Gazette, Kimberly Watkins talked about her career with "Manhattan GMAT, a test prep boutique for MBA admissions." Watkins started with the company as a test teacher and worked closely with the founder Zeke Venderhoek to grow the business. In 2002, she was given the title Marketing and Student Services Director and tasked with expanding operations. By 2004, the company had a multi-million dollar budget and the scope of Watkins' work had grown to include managing marketing for locations in multiple cities. She says she reached all the targets and was generally high performing. In 2007, Venderhoeck hired Andrew Yang as president to help manage the continued expansion and so that Vanderhoek could focus on other projects. 

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3. Yang comes on board

Watkins recalled that Yang came on as president in 2007. She knew him because he taught the GMAT prep classes that the business was known for but he hadn't been involved in the running of the operation before that. She writes that in the early part of Yang's tenure, "Andrew reorganized the company, promoted me to Senior Director, and set more aggressive goals for me and my team. Andrew and I worked well together, and had a high level of mutual professional respect." 

During the period when Yang was first with Mahanttan GMAT, Watkins was planning her wedding. Other high-level employees at the company had gotten married and taken honeymoon breaks before so she didn't think much of doing so as well. She claims that it didn't affect her work performance and that she prepared her team to cover for her while she was on vacation, as many employees at many different jobs do. "The operations at Manhattan GMAT had the expected pace of a growing company but were going very well, and I met all of my high-level growth marks despite having to select caterers and bridesmaids dresses," she wrote. "In preparation for being away two and a half weeks for the wedding and honeymoon the longest I would have been away since the start of the firm, I worked nonstop to have all the pieces in place during my absence."

Watkins was fired after her honeymoon.

4. Fired for being married

After returning from her honeymoon, Watkins discovered that her team had continued their shared work perfectly and she was ready to get back to work as well. Then, a few days later, it all came apart. "But on the third day that I was back from my honeymoon, Andrew asked me to come into his office after everyone else had left," Watkins wrote. "And behind closed doors, he opined that I wouldn’t want to keep working as hard as I had now that I’d started this new personal chapter. That as a married woman, I’d want to focus on my new life."

Later, Watkins would come to speculate that her honeymoon had given Yang the space to see that she could be replaced more inexpensively. She wrote in the Gotham Gazette, "Andrew must have calculated that I would work less, travel less, put in fewer hours as a married woman, yet still earn my six-figure bonuses. He had seen how seamlessly my staff had performed while I was on my honeymoon. He probably thought that they would do the work cheaper. With my compensation package off the books, several college grads could be brought in to spread the work around. And just like that, my wedding and honeymoon had rendered me obsolete from the company that I had helped to build."

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5. Yang denies it

Not surprisingly, Yang painted a different picture of Watkins' departure from the company than she did. Only his picture is short on details, without an actual explanation for why she left. In a statement, he said: "As a CEO I made decisions about hiring and firing singularly based on performance. Kimberly Watkins’ facts about her break from Manhattan Prep are inaccurate. During my more than a decade as CEO, I have worked with many women, married and otherwise, and value their work and dedication as important to the success of any institution. If I were the kind of leader who would do the sort of thing described by Ms. Watkins I would never enjoy a whiff of success. Women leaders are vital to any company or organization and I have been very fortunate and grateful to have worked with many of them in my career.“

He did not go on to share any details about what aspects of Watkins' performance had promoted him to fire her. He also doesn't overtly deny that the conversation happened as Watkins reported it. 

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Watkins sticks with her story.

6. Would he do the same to a man?

While Watkins rightly notes that her job was an at-will employment situation where either employee or employer can terminate the relationship at any time, for any reason, it's worth exploring the reason Yang gave Watkins for firing her. Her memory of Yang specifically saying that she would want to focus more on her new life after getting married tilts the conversation toward sexism: would Yang have brought in a recently married male employee to have the same conversation?

So far, no male employees of Yang's have come forward to share similar experiences. There is no way to know if that's because Yang treated male employees differently than women. It is possible that Yang made a habit of terminating employees whose salaries and bonuses were a cost burden on the company — he wouldn't be the first leader to do that — but it's also likely that he didn't tell male employees he was firing them so they could focus on their new lives as husbands. 

7. The first Freedom Dividend

Watkins says that her experience with Yang amounted to the first Freedom Dividend. He structured a two-year severance package where she was paid to stop working at the company — albeit for much less than she would have made continuing her job. While the money kept her from destitution, it didn't change how upsetting the experience was for her and it doesn't change her conviction that people should know about this. "At no point have I suggested a pattern of conscious sexist or misogynistic behavior. I simply maintain that what he did to me was wrong Also, that it should be known to the public, because he wants to be the President of the United States," she writes. "At the end of the day, we are still left with the fact that, behind closed doors, the high performing, female employee who had just been married, was fired by Andrew Yang, from a successful growing company. I did not fabricate my memory of the words he chose. A woman doesn’t forget a discussion like this, not ever.

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.