Employment Discrimination Seeps Into the C-Suite

As the American public becomes increasingly aware of employment discrimination, on-the-job sexual harassment and other injustices in the workplace, more and more victims are coming forward and seeking justice and reparations. Though many of these incidents involve employees in lower level, seemingly vulnerable roles, a newly-filed lawsuit makes clear that is not always the case.

The case involves the former chief operating officer of Pinterest, who claims she was fired in retaliation for complaining about on-the-job sexism. Francoise Brougher was hired into her position at the social media platform in March of 2018. She traces her 2020 firing to an interaction with Chief Executive Officer Ben Silbermann in 2019, following her discovery that she’d been misled about the company’s executive compensation, and that her compensation was below that of other C-suite executives. Her claim indicates that following this she was prevented from being able to do her job, in part because she was no longer welcomed to board and executive meetings.

In addition to Brougher’s allegations, the company has faced other claims of discrimination and retaliation against women at the company’s highest levels. In June, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks revealed that they had both left the company’s policy team in response to retaliation that began after they’d complained about rampant discrimination. According to a tweet by Banks, "My manager made disparaging comments about my ethnicity in front of my team, and later about another woman colleague's Jewish heritage in relation to those earlier comments. It was wild." She claims that retaliation against her began after she reported the discriminatory behavior to Human Resources.

Ms. Brougher’s lawsuit claims an environment that "reflects a pattern of discrimination and exclusion." In a personal essay about the lawsuit she wrote, "I believe that I was fired for speaking out about the rampant discrimination, hostile work environment, and misogyny that permeates Pinterest. It is time to eliminate the 'boys clubs' that dominate far too many companies and make room for more women leaders and their ideas."

Based on comments made to The Washington Post by Ozoma, Banks and other Pinterest employees, he discrimination that Brougher complains of apparently permeated the company. A female former employee who was the only black person on her team recounted being told to stop speaking in meetings and watching her manager use presentations that she had created as if they were her own. She also told of a team dinner where she was told that she should as act a “servant” for the other members of the team. The comment was defended as a joke, but she says that "everyone knew it was wrong, but nobody said anything in that moment."

There have been previous allegations of systematic discrimination at high levels, including against a gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and pay discrimination lawsuits against Google, Oracle and Tesla. Many of these suits were joined by the Department of Labor.

Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender and many other protected categories across the United States, and in the State of New Jersey these laws are further strengthened and supported by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. If you believe that you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about your rights and the options available to you.

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