Home >Opinion >Twitter sued for alleged gender discrimination
One reason class action suits are so powerful is because it’s hard to chalk the allegations of a big group of people up to a single person’s personal issues at work. Photo: AFP
One reason class action suits are so powerful is because it’s hard to chalk the allegations of a big group of people up to a single person’s personal issues at work. Photo: AFP

Twitter sued for alleged gender discrimination

Even if the lawsuit fizzles out, there's momentum now for women to step forward and fight in court

First Kleiner Perkins. Then Facebook. Now Twitter.

A gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Twitter—following similar, high-profile suits against Kleiner, Perkins and Facebook—may have the most potential to change the fortunes of women in technology simply because it’s a proposed class action lawsuit.

This, of course, presupposes that the suit filed last week by ex-Twitter engineer Tina Huang picks up steam and fellow plaintiffs. It also presupposes that the case ends in a big settlement for the (as yet to materialize) plaintiffs or a court victory.

Huang alleges that Twitter Inc. has no formal procedure around promotions or job openings, and that this opaque process favors men.

“Ms. Huang resigned voluntarily from Twitter, after our leadership tried to persuade her to stay. She was not fired," said a Twitter spokesman. “Twitter is deeply committed to a diverse and supportive workplace, and we believe the facts will show Ms. Huang was treated fairly."

One reason class action suits are so powerful is because it’s hard to chalk the allegations of a big group of people up to a single person’s personal issues at work. As we’ve seen in the Pao case, Kleiner Perkins has argued, often effectively, that Pao simply didn’t get along with her co-workers. The firm has muddied the waters considerably, making it hard to decide whether Pao failed to thrive at Kleiner because she was discriminated against or because she was bad that the politics necessary to survive in a hyper-competitive workplace.

Class action suits also send the sort of expensive message that gets the attention of human resources departments, even those that are inclined to look the other way when bad things happen.

I mentioned last week that the lawsuits against Kleiner and Facebook are interesting, but that I don’t think they alone will do much to positively change the way that women are regarded in Silicon Valley. The Twitter suit may be have more potential. But even if the Twitter suit fizzles out, there’s momentum now for women to step forward and fight in court against discrimination—and truly hold the tech industry to account. Bloomberg

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