Women sue Musk's Twitter alleging discriminatory layoffs
Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, foreground, speaks in front of former Twitter employees Dmitry Borodaenko, rear left, and Wren Turkal during a news conference outside of a federal courthouse in San Francisco, Thursday, December 8, 2022. Borodaenko and Turkal are some of the former Twitter employees suing the company in federal court after losing their jobs when billionaire Elon Musk took over. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Two women who lost their jobs at Twitter when billionaire Elon Musk took over are suing the company in federal court, claiming that last month's abrupt 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 firings.

Days after the world’s richest man bought the social media platform for $44 billion, the company told about half of employees on November 4 that they no longer had a job but would get three months severance. The lawsuit filed in a San Francisco federal court this week alleges that 57 per cent of female employees were laid off, compared to fewer than half of men, despite Twitter employing more men overall before the layoffs.

The cutbacks continued throughout November as Musk fired engineers who questioned or criticized him and gave all remaining employees the choice to resign with severance or sign a form pledging “extremely hardcore” work, long hours and dedication to Twitter's new direction. Scores more lost their jobs after declining to make the pledge.

The lawsuit alleges that also disproportionately harmed women, “who are more often caregivers for children and other family members, and thus not able 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 hasn’t disclosed how many are left. Twitter didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The lawsuit filed late Wednesday for former employees Carolina Bernal Strifling and Willow Wren Turkal on behalf of similarly-situated female workers makes the claim that 57 per cent of female employees were laid off on November 4, compared to 47 per cent of male employees, citing a spreadsheet. The plaintiffs are scheduled to speak about the lawsuit on Thursday.

The gap is even greater for women in engineering-related roles — 63 per cent were laid off, compared to 48 per cent of men with engineering roles, according to the lawsuit filed by prominent Boston workers' rights attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign for Massachusetts attorney general earlier this year.

“The mass termination of employees at Twitter has impacted female employees to a much greater extent than male employees – and to a highly statistically significant degree,” Liss-Riordan wrote. “Moreover, Elon Musk has made a number of publicly discriminatory remarks about women, further confirming that the mass termination’s greater impact on female employees resulted from discrimination.”

Speaking outside the courthouse before a hearing, Liss-Riordan said she wanted to show that “the richest man in the world is not above the law.”

“Musk and Twitter think they’re never going to be held accountable in court.

We are arguing that the arbitration agreements (signed by Twitter staff) are not enforceable. But if we have to go through arbirtration one by one, we are ready to do that,” Liss-Riordan said.

“Of all the issues facing Elon Musk, this is the easiest to address: treat the workers with respect, pay them what they deserve under the law," she added.

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