Seven former Twitter employees are suing the website, now rebranded as X, for racial discrimination, age discrimination, and violations of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition of the platform, according to court documents.
Per the lawsuit, obtained by Rolling Stone, plaintiffs Nhu Weinberg, Samantha Gongora, Julia Steele,
Omolade Ogunsanya, Nanci Sills, Krista Bessinger, and Ikuhiro Ihara are all suing X for terminating their employment following Musk’s “chaotic” acquisition of the company in 2022, which resulted in mass layoffs.
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“Twitter’s mass termination has impacted employees in a number of protected categories to a much greater degree than other employees,” the suit, brought in the United States District Court in the Northern District of California, San Francisco division, states. “These categories include female, Black, and older employees, as well as employees who had recently taken or were preparing to take family or medical leave.”
According to the suit, which was brought by attorneys at the Boston-based firm Lichten and Liss-Riordan, Weinberg was employed as a software engineer by Twitter for nearly a decade before she was laid off in November 2022. She had taken family leave to care for her disabled child, as well as medical leave less than a month before being terminated from the company. The suit alleges that the layoffs at Twitter “had a disproportionately high impact on employees who were taking, or preparing to take, family or medical leave,” with approximately 60 percent of employees on leave at the time of the November layoffs losing their jobs following Musk’s acquisition.
Weinberg is the only employee claiming FMLA violations in the suit. But Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs whose firm has brought more than a dozen class-action lawsuits against X in the wake of Musk’s acquisition, says they represent “many, many, many employees” who were let go from Twitter while they were on family leave, about to go on family leave, or just returned from family leave; many of which are in arbitration.
“Unfortunately, Elon Musk has not shown himself to be someone who seems to care that much about legal violations, which is quite unfortunate for the employees who dedicated a good part of their careers to Twitter and found themselves out of work and without severance they had been promised,” she tells Rolling Stone.
For context, Musk has strongly advocated for people to procreate as much as possible, tweeting in the summer of 2022, “being a mom is as important as any career” and urging an audience at a Wall Street journal event in 2021, “if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble. Mark my words.”
The suit alleges that the November 2022 layoffs predominantly affected women, with 57 percent of Twitter employees laid off that month as opposed to 47 percent of male employees, a disparity that the suit deems “statistically significant.” Five of the plaintiffs are female and alleging gender discrimination, according to the suit.
“He seems to have an attitude that women should be home having babies and apparently not working as much at companies like Twitter,” says Liss-Riordan. “He’s made many hostile and derogatory comments about women over the years. Unfortunately, it appears to have had a larger impact on women when he decided to lay off so many employees upon his acquisition of Twitter.”
The suit also alleges that the Twitter layoffs post-Musk acquisition disproportionately affected older employees, with 60 percent of employees age 50 or over being terminated as part of the November layoffs, compared to 54 percent of employees under the age of 50. Two of the plaintiffs are older than 50 and are alleging age discrimination, per the suit.
As an example of Musk’s alleged bias against older employees, the suit cites a comment he made during a 2022 interview with the CEO of Axel Springer, in which he states: “I don’t think we should try to have people live for a really long time. That it would cause asphyxiation of society because the truth is, most people don’t change their mind…they just die. So, if they don’t die, we will be stuck with old ideas and society wouldn’t advance.”
The lawsuit makes a similar claim about the layoffs disproportionately affecting Black employees, though it does not cite any specific statistics to that effect (Liss-Riordan says that is because that data is less precise due to it being based on their own research, rather than disclosures Twitter itself made, though “based on who we were able to identify through our research, the one racial category where we found a statistical disparity in who it laid off and retained was Black employees.”)
According to the suit, Omolade Ogunsanya, a former curation desk lead and co-chairman of an African-American employee resource group who worked for the company for two years before he was terminated, alleges that his firing was “the product of unlawful race-based discrimination against Black employees.”
“This is not surprising given Musk’s history of support for racist groups and hate
speech directed at Black people, which demonstrate his discriminatory animus against Black
individuals,” the suit alleges, citing Musk’s defense of Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams after making racist comments and Musk’s decision to reinstate previously banned racists and white supremacists on the platform, as reported by Rolling Stone, as examples.
“As Twitter’s new owner and CEO, who oversaw and closely managed the employees who were making layoff decisions and implementing his policies, Musk’s discriminatory animus is imputed to Twitter.”
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter (now X) has been marked by chaos, with many senior employees being fired or exiting the company following the transition. Musk has also received criticism for many of the changes he has instituted during his time as the owner of X, including rolling out a blue-checkmark verification program for $7.99 that spawned hundreds of trolls and impersonators, as well as terminating many employees responsible for curbing the spread of disinformation on the platform.
A representative for X did not immediately respond to a request for comment, which Liss-Riordan says is somewhat part and parcel with the company’s attitude toward litigation in general.
“From what i understand, it has been giving its poop emoji to any press regarding any legal claims we have filed,” she says. Of Musk, she adds, “he seems to have a pretty cavalier attitude toward breaking the law and sending lawyers to clean up after him.”
Wednesday, August 9, 2023, 4:33 p.m. This story has been updated with comment from the plaintiffs’ attorney.
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