In photos taken before and after Twitter’s mass layoffs, it appeared to many that Musk’s sweeping staff cuts severely reduced the number of women on the Twitter staff. Now, women fired by Twitter have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that Musk violated employment laws by firing significantly more women than men.
“Women at Twitter never had a decent chance to be treated fairly when Elon Musk decided to buy the company,” the attorney representing the women plaintiffs, Shannon Liss-Riordan, said in a press release provided to Ars. “Instead, they had targets on their backs and regardless of their talent and contributions, they were at greater risk of losing their jobs than men.”
Lead plaintiffs in the class action are Miami-based Carolina Bernal Strifling, who worked at Twitter for seven years, and California-based Willow Wren Turkal, an engineer who joined Twitter in 2021 after four years at Facebook and LinkedIn. They are suing Twitter “on their own behalf and on behalf of other female Twitter employees across the country who have been fired or constructively fired from their jobs during the chaotic weeks since multi-billionaire Elon Musk bought the company.”
Their complaint cites calculations provided by Mark Killingsworth, an economics professor at Rutgers University, to claim that “57 percent of female employees were laid off by November 4, 2022, while 47 percent of male employees were laid off.”
This disparity, the complaint claims, “cannot be explained based on a rationale that Musk intended to retain more employees in engineering-related roles.” Killingsworth estimated that Musk fired 63 percent of female employees in engineering-related roles, compared to 48 percent of male employees in engineering-related roles.
Musk’s own tweets are cited in the complaint as evidence of alleged sexism on Twitter. The complaint points to one tweet Musk deletednaming a school using the acronym “TITS”, as well as a recent tweet, where the billionaire said, “Testosterone rocks ngl.” The complaint also links to media reports from PC Mag and Futurism discussing the impact of Musk’s alleged misogyny on women who work for him.
Alleging that Musk’s firings violated the protections of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, the women plaintiffs have requested a jury trial. They are seeking “lost back pay, advances, lost benefits, bonuses and equity, as well as emotional distress, damages, interest and any other appropriate relief.” They also want the right to demand that Twitter reinstate female employees who want to return to work.
Twitter did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
Other claims of discrimination
In addition to allegedly firing more women than men, the class-action lawsuit alleges that Musk has discriminated against female employees in other ways.
The complaint alleges that when Musk asked employees to agree to work in the office 24/7 or voluntarily leave their jobs, “Musk surely would have known that these policy changes and expectations would have a disproportionate impact on women, who are more often caregivers. for children and other family members, and thus unable to comply with such requirements.”
On the same day the women filed their class action, disabled employees and employees on family or medical leave affected by layoffs also filed a class action, represented by Liss-Riordan. Their complaint alleges that Twitter violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Lead plaintiffs in that complaint are California-based Dmitry Borodaenko, who joined Twitter in 2021 after four years at Facebook, and Abhijit Mehta, a Twitter engineer since 2017 who, according to their LinkedIn profile, was the founding engineering lead for Twitter Blue. They are suing “on behalf of employees who have taken or plan to take family or medical leave soon, as well as disabled employees who can perform their jobs with or without reasonable accommodation but who were not allowed to continue their jobs, either through termination or forced resignation after being required to accept work under unreasonable conditions for an employee with a disability.”
Borodaenko has a disability that puts him at extra risk of health complications if he contracts COVID-19. The complaint says he was assured when he was hired in 2021 that “he would always have the option to work remotely,” but Musk’s takeover changed those terms. After Musk demanded that all employees return to the office, Borodaenko emailed his manager, explaining, “If I haven’t mentioned it before, as [a] Cancer survivor I am at extra risk for Covid (it also counts as a disability) so I am definitely not working from home [the] office until the pandemic is over.”
Shortly after sending that email, Twitter human resources notified Borodaenko that he was fired, reportedly with no explanation other than: “Your recent behavior has violated company policy.”
In Mehta’s case, after his wife became pregnant, he had previously been granted family leave approved by Twitter management, which was to start this coming December 28 until next May. Instead, Mehta was dismissed, which shocked him.
“He was very surprised to hear this news as he was a very high performer at the company, had recently received a promotion and was working on an important project for Twitter,” the complaint states.
The complaint estimates that Twitter laid off “approximately 60 percent of employees who were on leave” at the time of the Nov. 4 layoffs.
In this case, the employees have also requested a jury trial. They are asking the court to award damages and require Twitter to “reinstate disabled employees who wish to return to their jobs with reasonable accommodations” and “employees who have taken or plan to take family or medical leave who wish to return to their jobs.”