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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Twitter Accused of Sex Bias in Class Action

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Twitter fired a software engineer for complaining about the company's sexist policies, which she told CEO Dick Costolo are "arbitrary and unjust," she claimed Thursday in a class action.

Tina Huang claims in Superior Court that she was one of Twitter's earliest hires, but was denied promotions because Twitter "discriminates against its female employees by failing to promote equally qualified or better qualified women to engineering leadership positions."

"The company's promotion system creates a glass ceiling for women that cannot be explained or justified by any reasonable business purpose, because Twitter has no meaningful promotion process for these jobs: no published promotion criteria, nor any internal hiring, advancement, or application processes for employees," Huang says in the complaint.

Huang started at Twitter in 2009, when the company had fewer than 100 employees, and she says its dramatic growth has been largely due to the work of early hires.

"Indeed, many of the early hires now hold senior positions in the company, and without exception, all of those senior positions within the software engineer job family are held by men," her complaint states.

Huang claims that "Twitter recognizes its company-wide, pervasive problem of discrimination. It has conducted internal diversity studies, focusing on barriers to women's advancement. It also treats its promotion process (and the gender disparities therein) as a common, companywide problem requiring a companywide solution. "For example, Twitter recently began providing bias mitigation training throughout the company."

Huang says senior management has acknowledged the gender disparity by saying the firm will "'continue improving' its 'diversity standing' and 'move the needle.'"

In early 2013, she was put in the running for a senior software position by her immediate supervisor, which Huang says is the only way promotions are done at Twitter.

The senior staff engineer position would be a critical promotion in her career, because the job would have shifted her focus from coding and individual projects to a leadership role and company-wide collaboration, as well as access to high-level management meetings.

But despite years of impressive service to Twitter, excellent evaluations by peers and supervisors and an absence of any criticism or disciplinary issues, Huang says she was denied the promotion without explanation.

She sought objective reasons, but was given none. The only reasons she could find, she says, were rumors about "her 'aggressiveness' and 'lack of high quality code'" on a specific project.

She also learned that seven men had been promoted to the senior staff engineer level. That's when she sent CEO Costolo an email that said Twitter's promotion policy was arbitrary and unjust.

She says the corporate response was to order to take "personal leave" and that it would investigate her complaint.

She says she met with Costolo and HR people, but no information about the investigation was shared with her, and her assignments were given to other engineers. Co-workers were told she was on personal leave, though they knew she had complained about the promotion process, so she says her ability to lead was undermined, too.

After three months, Huang says, "She felt she had no choice by to leave the company for the sake of her career."

She says that Twitter's actions "would cause a reasonable person in (her) position to feel compelled to resign."

"Twitter intentionally caused objectively intolerable working conditions and knowingly allowed them to exist," Huang says.

She seeks class certification, lost wages and benefits, full vesting of her stock options, and damages and punitive damages for sex discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.

She is represented by Jason Lohr with Lohr Ripamonti & Segarich.

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