Two women who lost their jobs at Twitter when billionaire Elon Musk took over are suing the company in federal court, saying last month’s steep mass layoffs disproportionately affected female employees.
The discrimination lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges over Musk’s decimation of Twitter’s workforce through mass layoffs and dismissals.
Days after the world’s richest man bought the social media platform for $44 billion, the company announced on November 4 to about half of the employees that they no longer had a job. employment but that they would receive three months’ allowance. The lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco this week alleges that 57% of female employees were fired, compared to less than half of men, although Twitter employed more men overall before the layoffs.
The cuts continued through November as Musk fired engineers who questioned or criticized him and gave all remaining employees the choice of resigning with severance or signing a form promising “extremely hard”, long hours and a dedication to the new direction of Twitter. Dozens of others have lost their jobs after refusing to sign up.
The lawsuit alleges it has also disproportionately harmed women, “who are more often carers for children and other family members, and therefore unable to comply with such demands.”
San Francisco-based Twitter started the year with about 7,500 employees worldwide, according to a filing with securities regulators. Now a private company, it has not revealed how many are left. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday night for former employees Carolina Bernal Strifling and Willow Wren Turkal on behalf of similarly situated female workers claims 57% of female employees were fired on Nov. 4, compared to 47% of male employees, citing a spreadsheet. The plaintiffs are due to speak about the trial on Thursday.
The gap is even wider for women in engineering-related jobs – 63% were fired, compared to 48% of men in engineering jobs, according to the lawsuit filed by the prominent workers’ rights lawyer of Boston, Shannon Liss-Riordan, who led an unsuccessful campaign. Democratic primary campaign for Massachusetts attorney general earlier this year.
“The mass layoff of employees at Twitter had a much greater impact on women than on men – and to a highly statistically significant degree,” Liss-Riordan wrote. “Furthermore, Elon Musk made a number of publicly discriminatory remarks against women, further confirming that the greater impact of the mass layoff on female employees resulted from discrimination.”
Speaking outside the courthouse ahead of a hearing, Liss-Riordan said she wanted to show that “the richest man in the world is not above the law”.
“Musk and Twitter believe they will never be held liable in court. We argue that the arbitration agreements (signed by Twitter staff) are not binding. But if we have to go through arbitration one-by-one , we are ready to do it,” Liss-Riordan said.
“Of all the problems Elon Musk faces, this is the easiest to solve: treat workers with respect, pay them what they deserve under the law,” she added.
The lawsuit adds to a number of examples of fired Twitter employees in the United States and elsewhere who are fighting back. A group of employees are filing individual arbitration claims in California because the documents they signed when they joined the company waived their rights to a class action and jury trial.
“To date, we have filed five,” their attorney Lisa Bloom said in an email Thursday. “The number will continue to increase daily.”
In Ireland, a senior executive is fighting the company in court to get her job back after it failed to respond to Musk’s email demanding employees commit to ‘extremely hard’ work or resign with severance pay.
Sinead McSweeney, Twitter’s global vice president for public policy, last week won a temporary injunction preventing Twitter from terminating her employment, according to Irish news reports. The company told the Irish High Court that its human resources department intended to enter into talks with McSweeney to resolve the dispute, according to the reports.
In a sworn statement to the court, McSweeney said many staff at Twitter’s European headquarters in Dublin “expressed concern and confusion” about Musk’s email.
McSweeney said she was forced to make a “completely contrived decision” that “placed me in an impossible and extraordinarily unfair and unjust position” between accepting a “unilateral change” to her terms of employment or being terminated by a “fictitious resignation”.
After her lawyers received assurances from Twitter that her job was still valid, she attempted to return to the Dublin office but found her pass was not working. Security said they would have to check with human resources to verify she was still an employee.
“I felt completely humiliated, deeply confused and was reduced to tears in a public place,” she said.
AP writer Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.
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