March 27, 2015 - After complaining that Twitter’s sexist company policies were arbitrary and unjust, a software engineer named Tina Huang was fired. She claims she was fired in retaliation for her complaints and filed a class action. The previous Twitter software engineer claims she was one of Twitter’s earliest hires, but that she was overlooked for/denied promotion opportunities because Twitter discriminates against women. She claims that Twitter management fails to promote equally qualified or even more qualified women to leadership positions in engineering.
In her complaint, Huang points out that Twitter’s promotion system creates a glass ceiling for women that can’t be explained. She claims it does so by:
- The company has no meaningful promotion process for engineering leadership positions.
- No company approved, published criteria for promotion, internal hiring, advancement, or application processes.
Ms. Huang started work with Twitter in 2009. At that time, the company had less than 100 employees. She also claims that its dramatic growth in the time since that point is due in large part to the work of its early hires. Many of the early hires now hold senior positions within the company’s structure. Without exception, male employees hold all of those senior positions within the software engineer department.
Huang also claims that the sexual bias problem is one that has been recognized by Twitter. According to the complaint filed by Huang, Twitter has conducted internal diversity studies focusing on barriers blocking female employee advancement. There is a company-wide, pervasive problem with discrimination and acknowledged gender disparities. In an attempt to address the company-wide problem, Twitter recently put in place bias mitigation training throughout the entire company.
During discussions of the acknowledged gender disparity issue, senior management has been known to say that Twitter will “continue improving its ‘diversity standing’…and ‘move the needle.”
In 2013, Huang was put in for a promotion in the software engineering division by her immediate supervisor. Huang claims this is the only method by which to obtain a promotion at the company. The move would have been a critical promotion in Huang’s career. The job would have meant a shift of her focus from coding and individual projects to a leadership role requiring company collaboration. It would also mean access to meetings with high-level management. Huang had provided years of impressive service and work to Twitter. Despite these years on the job, excellent peer and supervisor work evaluations, an absence of any criticism or disciplinary issues, Huang was denied the critical promotion without any explanation. While no official reasons were provided (even when requested by Huang), she was able to pinpoint rumors about her “aggressiveness” and “lack of high quality code” on a particular work project.
In response to her objections to the gender inequality in Twitter hiring and promotion history, she was advised by corporate to take personal leave while further investigation was handled. She then met with the CEO, Costolo, and HR, but they did not provide her with any information about an investigation into her complaint. Her assignments were given to co-workers. Her co-workers were told that she was on personal leave even though they already knew about her complaints regarding Twitter’s promotional process. Huang claims in addition to the original sexual bias, her ability to lead was also undermined by Twitter’s corporate response to her complaint. After three months, she felt she was left with no other reasonable choice, but to resign for the sake of her career.
Huang feels that Twitter intentionally caused objectively intolerable working conditions and then in full awareness allowed them to continue. She is seeking class certification, her lost wages and benefits, full vesting of her stock options, as well as damages and punitive damages for sex discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.
For additional information and answers to specific questions about sexual bias on the job, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.