An employee uprising at a dysfunctional tech workplace has led to the exit of the CEO after only 9 months on the job

After an internal investigation into allegations of "sexism and a hostile work environment," as employees described it, the new CEO of LiveOps, Keith Leimbach, is out, Business Insider has confirmed. 

He was fired just nine months after being hired.

Also out: Sam Lawrence, the company confirmed. Lawrence was the chief strategy officer hired by Leimbach. Both executives were let go in the past couple of days, after Business Insider contacted board members inquiring about the investigation.

The shakeup is the latest example of bad behavior allegations roiling a tech company, in the wake of high-profile reports of harassment and sexism at Uber and at several venture capital firms. Business Insider spoke to seven current and former LiveOps employees about the events that led to the change. 

They described an employee revolt sparked by the arrival of two Silicon Valley execs, whose management style and freewheeling spending sent the Arizona-based call center company into chaos.

But unlike the case of Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer who said her complaints of sexism were repeatedly ignored by the company's human resources department, LiveOps' took these complaints seriously, said several of the employees Business Insider spoke to. According to the employees, LiveOps' HR boss Julie Boorse and in-house lawyer Purnima King were instrumental in helping to clue the board of directors into the situation, and ensuring that an independent investigation was completed.

17 ways your office job is destroying your health
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17 ways your office job is destroying your health

Sitting all day could shave years off your life

Sitting for lengthy periods is terrible for your body. Aches and pains are the least of your problems — sitting too much can lead to an early death. You face a higher risk of musculoskeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more, even if you work out regularly.

Around 86% of American workers sit all day at work. If you're one of them, your best plan of action is simply to move around for a few minutes every hour.

As Business Insider's Erin Brodwin reported, one observational study found that participants who moved around for about two minutes every hour had about a 33% lower risk of dying three years later than those who sat the whole time.

(Hero Images via Getty Images)

Regularly slouching in your chair can lead to back pain and headaches

Take a look at your posture right now: Are you slouching — or sitting up nice and straight?

According to the Mayo Clinic, "when you slouch or stoop, your muscles and ligaments strain to keep you balanced — which can lead to back pain, headaches and other problems." Yikes.

Business Insider's Brodwin shared the best way to develop better posture at your desk, based on tips from the Cleveland Clinic:

"First, sit at the end of your chair (that's right, don't rely on your backrest). Let your body go into a slouching position.

"Now, try to sit up straight, accentuating the curve of your back as much as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds.

"Next, release the position a little bit — Cleveland specifies that you shouldn't move more than about 10 degrees. This should be your sitting position!"

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Using a treadmill desk may increase your chances of physically hurting yourself

A treadmill desk may help with the risk of obesity and heart disease — and at least for a while, they were pretty trendy. But a 2013 Wall Street Journal article reported the higher incidence of falls among those using treadmill desks and stability balls.

Besides, using a treadmill desk might not even make you more productive. 2015 research suggests that, at least when you first start using one, your cognitive performance may suffer, and you're more likely to make typos.

(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Long commutes can lead to poor sleep, higher cholesterol, and an increased risk of depression

Commuting more than 10 miles by car can lead to higher blood sugar and increased cholesterol, according to a study from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas. It can also increase your risk of depression and anxiety.

But public transit is no picnic, either. One report published by the Office of National Statistics in the UK found that people who commute 30 minutes by bus have the lowest levels of life satisfaction, and even cyclists weren't immune to the ill effects of long-distance travel.

Interestingly, recent research suggests that most of us don't realize just how miserable commuting can make us. It's something to consider before you accept your next job offer.

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Motivational meetings can depress people

In April 2016, the National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling against T-Mobile because the company had included a provision in its employee handbook stating that employees should try to maintain a positive work environment.

On The New Yorker's website, Maria Konnikova explored the effects of requiring people to be happy and upbeat at work. In sum, it rarely works.

One organizational psychologist told her that while a positive work environment sounds nice, "The irony is, when you’re trying to get people to do something positive, you can't do it. Once it’s required, it's fake and forced." People may act and feel negative instead.

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Recirculated, toxic air can cause illness and hurt your productivity

The EPA uses the term "Sick Building Syndrome" to describe what happens when "building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified."

Meanwhile, one small study found that workers in "green" buildings — with better ventilation and lower carbon dioxide and VOC (volatile organic compound) concentrations — scored higher on some tests of cognitive function than workers in "conventional" buildings.

Working for more than 55 hours a week may increase your stroke risk

A 2015 review from researchers at University of College London found that people who work more than 55 hours a week have a whopping 33% greater risk of stroke. The review adds to a growing body of research on the health hazards of long work hours.

It's not like you're getting more work done, either: Research suggests that after working 60 hours a week for three weeks, our productivity starts to plummet.

(stockdevil via Getty Images)

Working for a bad boss can contribute to anxiety, unhealthy habits, and even heart disease

One Swedish study cited by The Washington Post found the chronic stress of a bad boss was linked to an elevated risk of heart disease — and the longer you work for that person, the worse the problem seems to become. 

That's just the beginning. Other studies have shown that working for an unfair boss may contribute to a host of other complaints, including depression, sleep issues, high blood pressure, and being overweight.

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Working odd hours can cause weight gain and increase stress hormone levels

Those who mostly work in the evenings — such as programmers — are at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, according to an article in The Atlantic

A study led by Harvard researchers in 2009 found that people who woke up later in the day showed a decline in leptin, a hormone responsible for curbing appetites, and an increase in the stress-related hormone cortisol.

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Endlessly staring at a computer screen can (temporarily) harm your vision

"Computer vision syndrome" refers to symptoms like irritated and tired eyes that result from starting at a digital screen all day. As Business Insider's Kevin Loria reported, one report found that the syndrome affects more than 60% of Americans.

One way to avoid eye strain is to implement the 20-20-20 rule: After every 20 minutes of work, take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away.

As Loria explains, "Your eyes have muscles that help them move and focus on different objects, but if we stare at a screen the same distance away for hours at a time, those muscles have a hard time adjusting once we move again."

Not getting enough sunlight can make it harder to fall asleep and more difficult to concentrate when you're awake

Artificial light doesn't just give your skin an unflattering greenish cast — it also messes with your internal clock, making you sleepy and sedentary.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that employees who weren't exposed to natural light at work slept an average of 46 minutes less a night than their peers with windows — and the sleep they did get was less restful.

Extreme boredom can increase your risk of dying from heart disease or stroke

It's not just hyperbole — you can actually be bored to death.

A study from University College London suggested that those who complain of boredom are more likely to die young, and those who report high levels of tedium are much more likely to die from heart disease or stroke.

The researchers are quick to note that boredom may not directly cause fatal illnesses — it's also possible that people who are bored engage in harmful behaviors such as drug use.

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Most workspaces and keyboards are welcome environments for germs

The office can be a breeding ground for bacteria if it's not kept clean.

A fascinating study from the University of Arizona, highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, traced the path of a single virus (which doesn't infect people) throughout an office building.

Sumathi Reddy writes in the Journal:

"Within two hours, the virus had contaminated the break room—coffee pot, microwave button, fridge door handle—and then spread to restrooms, individual offices and cubicles. There, researchers found, the virus had heavily contaminated phones, desks and computers.

"By four hours, they found the virus on more than 50% of the commonly touched surfaces and on hands of about half of the employees in the office."

Experts disagree on whether hand sanitizers are helpful — or whether they're counterproductive because they kill good bacteria, too. Another way to prevent the spread of germs? Stop shaking people's hands.

Open-office plans may be trendy, but they're also drastically more likely to make you sick

Nearly 70% of offices have ditched cubes for open plans, but while that may (may) increase some kinds of communication and collaboration, it's also making us sick.

A 2011 Danish study found that as the number of people working in a room increased, so did the relative number of sick days — and people who worked in fully open offices were out 62% more than their cubed counterparts. 

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Keeping your mouse in the same spot makes you prone to repetitive strain injury

If your mouse stays in the same spot all day, you can be prone to repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Upper-limb RSI occurs when your tendons are straining more than they should for long periods of time, which can be because of movement repetition, a sustained awkward position, or prolonged pressing against hard surfaces.

One option is to use a mouse platform and a forearm support, so you reduce the area you use the mouse in. Another option is to use a shorter keyboard, so you make fewer sideways movements.

Smartphone overuse may cause inflammation in your thumb

People who use their smartphones heavily to text and email may wind up injuring their thumbs, since that's the go-to typing finger for many people.

As a physician at the Philadelphia Hand Center told TODAY, overuse may cause inflammation in the area — which can lead to aching, cramping, and throbbing — or even osteoarthritis.

The physician said the best treatment is usually rest and ice.

Uncomfortable shoes may eventually lead to spinal injuries, muscle spasms, and chronic headaches

Those power pumps you're wearing might make you feel tall and confident, but they're also harming your body in surprising ways.

Between 2005 and 2009, women's visits to doctors for their feet increased by 75%, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS)

As an orthopedic surgeon told, wearing uncomfortable shoes can cause your back to curve, potentially leading to spinal injuries, muscle spasms, and even chronic headaches and migraines.

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He quit in protest, then became CEO

The revolt led to the ouster of Leimbach and Lawrence and caused the board to hire back one of the key executives who had quit in protest: COO Greg Hanover. Hanover wasn't just hired back. He was handed the CEO job after Leimbach departed.

A LiveOps spokesperson explained:

“Liveops did receive complaints regarding the workplace and quickly engaged a third party investigator and outside counsel to assist in an investigation. Liveops believes that it has taken steps to address any issues that were raised and is glad its employees took the initiative to come forward with concerns about the workplace. As to Greg Hanover’s return as the CEO, Greg has long been a valued and respected member of the Liveops team and we are excited that he has returned to the company.”

LiveOps would not comment on any specific complaints, citing confidentiality, but Business Insider heard a litany of allegations. 

One person described a drunken text message, penned by a manager hired in Leimbach's administration, which referred to women using derogatory terms, along with regular workplace jokes full of sexual innuendo and a systemic discounting of women's ideas.

Reports of yelling and demeaning treatment of all employees were also common.  

Lawrence could not be reached for comment but Leimbach alleges that there was really another reason why they were terminated, not having to do with this investigation.

He believes he and Lawrence were fired because he planned make changes with a vendor relationship, a vendor that has a relationship with a board member. He wouldn't elaborate on what he meant by that, citing the advice of his lawyer.

"I believe we were terminated for actions that were in conflict at very senior levels related to our intended actions for a specific vendor. I deny any inappropriate behavior," Leimbach told Business Insider.

Imploded over the summer

LiveOps is a call center operator based in Scottsdale, Arizona. LiveOps gained Valley prestige when it nabbed Maynard Webb as its CEO from 2006-2011. He stayed on as chairman until 2014. Webb is the former COO of eBay, former chairman of Yahoo and a so-called super angel investor. He is no longer involved in LiveOps although one person close to the company said he still owns a stake and was in touch with leadership from time to time. His spokesperson said he was not aware of the investigation.

In late 2016, LiveOps spun out its contact center software unit into a separate company. In December it hired Leimbach to be CEO of the remaining business, which operates call centers for retailers, hotels and the like. It's about a $40 million company, with about 120 employees, employees said. It's claim to fame is that it's a cloud-based call center that allows the call operators (most of them contractors) to work from home.

Under Leimbach and Lawrence's leadership, LiveOps practically imploded over the summer, when around 15 managers, many of them women, quit the company shortly after receiving the company's quarterly bonus. 

"Bullying, harassment and sexism"

The employee exodus was due to what many describe as a dysfunctional workplace. The internal investigation looked at a wide variety of allegations. 

"There's an intimidation allegation, bullying, harassment and sexism, all that stuff is on the table and folks have examples and witnesses to some events which is what required the board to initiate an investigation led by an outside investigator," one exec told us last week.

The atmosphere was bad almost from the start. In Februrary 2017, a few weeks after Leimbach took the reins, he gathered several leaders to help him prep for an appointment with a large customer. It was Leimbach's first time meeting some of the LiveOps leadership team and, according to one person, he quickly instilled fear in the group: "Who am I going to fire after this meeting?" he threatened.

Several people Business Insider spoke to alleged that the new executives engaged in "reckless spending" on things like redecorating their corporate-paid-for apartments or Leimbach expensing his family's flights to visit him in Arizona.

When it came to the sales team, "He berated them and embarrassed them and has been horrible to them in front of other people," one person said of Leimbach.

For instance, one time, he forbade a group of employees who had flown out for a customer meeting to board their return flight home and ordered them to continue working instead, according to documents seen by Business Insider.

He also allegedly crafted a change to the bonus program from revenue targets to revenue and profit targets. When the company missed its revenue targets "by millions" the bonuses were paid at the 100% rate anyway, including the exec team's own hefty payouts, confirmed three people with knowledge of the matter.

"We shouldn’t have gotten bonuses. We didn’t meet the revenue. It's not right," one of them said.

Negative reviews about Leimbach began showing up on Glassdoor and multiple people believed that he was trying to unmask the employees who wrote them.

We asked Leimbach about the various allegations. He told us:  "Many of the items you describe are specifically addressed in my employment agreement, others are the direct result of driving the changes I was hired to make, and others are outright false. My employment agreement prevents me from commenting further."

Employees cheer

Lawrence, who had served as the Chief Marketing Officer for the workplace collaboration software maker Jive several years ago, earned a reputation for firing people on the spot — often seemingly arbitrarily — and then bringing in his former colleagues. Business Insider has learned of several people who have hired lawyers to explore their options after being let go. 

And some of Lawrence's behavior was described as just plain weird. One person told us about a meeting for company leaders that Lawrence hosted called "acid trip," in which everyone had to stay at his house, which meant sharing a bathroom. He reportedly flew managers in for other meetings and then left before they could present their information to him.

Lawerence also oversaw the creation of a new website for the company that raised eyebrows. According to several people, Lawrence's corporate bio on the site promoted and linked to his personal podcast, one that explored all sorts of topics such as "How to practice extreme intimacy with Dominatrix-to-the-Stars Jenny Nordbak". (Lawrence was also known back in the day for launching a startup called Blackbox, a short-lived social network about sex.) 

All of this came to head during the investigation. All told about 30 people were involved, multiple people said, so nearly one-quarter of the company.  One person who talked to Business Insider last week told us, "I am an existing employee and am scared of what will happen to me and the company if there is no recourse for their actions."

But with the announcement that Leimbach and Lawrence were out and Hanover was back, employees took to Glassdoor to cheer. "Finally the board saw what everyone else did. They did the right thing in replacing the CEO with someone who deserved it all along," one wrote.

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