Twitter Takes On Gender Bias Employment Lawsuit in California

Much has been written about the lack of gender diversity in Silicon Valley. The problem has even birthed a few California employment lawsuits, with varied results. Most notable among those was the case of Ellen Pao, a junior partner, against her former employer and powerhouse venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Pao lost her her bid for compensation spring, after jurors found there was not enough evidence of gender discrimination. iphone5

Now in the latest legal action against a technology giant, Twitter is accused of gender discrimination by a former engineer. Tina Huang claims she was forced out of the firm because she is a woman. She has the testimony of a former colleague to help back her claims.

However, Twitter has come out swinging, alleging that former colleague of Huang’s likely violated an employment contract by helping his friend land a job at the venture capital firm where he’d begun working. The company plans to file a motion to dismiss, claiming the allegations have no basis in truth. 

Huang alleges men were positioned in all the top senior roles within the engineering department where she once worked. She filed a complaint with the then-CEO. Almost immediately after, she was placed on indefinite leave. Twitter said it needed time to investigate. Plaintiff said she had no choice but to resign, which she did in May 2014 – just one year before the Pao decision was handed down.

The lack of diversity in these firms is something that is quantifiable, easily counted. There are only so many top-level positions, and most are dominated by men. However, the question is whether the company engaged in illegal hiring practices by treating men and women differently. This is tougher to prove under judicial scrutiny.

Twitter concedes that more men than women are in top-level positions. Women comprise about 10 percent of its global technical staff, about one-fifth of those in senior-level positions. The company has promised to raise these figures up to 16 and 25 percent respectively by the end of 2016.

An attorney for plaintiff says Twitter’s back-hitting with the allegation of the former co-worker violating the non-solicitation clause of his contract is a “distraction” from the bigger, underlying issue. He said his client won’t be swayed. In fact, she is seeking to expand the California gender discrimination claim by filing for class action status, allowing all women who worked in the software engineering arm of the company to join. At this point, there are no estimates on how many employees that might include. About half of Twitter’s 3,600 employees are engineers.

The case is Huang v. Twitter Inc.

In her complaint, she alleges there is no formal process for an employee to make their way up the corporate ladder. Essentially, it is at the discretion and initiative of the worker’s manager, and a promotion committee approves those requests. She describes the process as a “tap on the shoulder for advancement.” The entire process is very “black box” and there is no transparency about why one worker is promoted and not another. Because promotion relies heavily on subjective judgments, most of those in senior roles are men, she said.

Even getting hired is a very secretive process, and the jobs posted for the public are not actual open positions, but rather recruitment tools. The fact that only a tenth of their workers are women, she said, shows how discriminatory the process is.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Twitter’s Gender-Bias Lawsuit Gets Swept Up in the Talent Tech Wars, Feb. 8, 2016, By Joel Rosenblatt, Bloomberg News

More Blog Entries:

Top 5 Areas the EEOC is Pursuing Litigation to Protect Workers, Jan. 15, 2016, Orange County gender discrimination attorney blog