Lawsuit: We've got the stats to prove Twitter ax fell unfairly on older, female engineers
Seven ex-tweeps bring the receipts, as the kids say
Twitter has been sued by seven former employees who allege they were discriminated against on the basis of sex, age, race, and/or for taking medical leave.
The complaint [PDF], filed in federal court in Oakland, California, claims parent biz X Corp violated America's Family Medical Leave Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by ousting the former workers when the company, following its acquisition by Elon Musk, halved its workforce during mass layoffs in November.
Of the seven plaintiffs: one had taken family and medical leave prior to being let go; five identify as female; one is Black; and two are aged 50 or older.
It is the latest in a series of complaints filed against the social media biz by Lichten & Liss-Riordan PC, a labor and employment law firm based in Boston, Massachusetts.
The prior cases allege that following last year's layoffs, Twitter failed to pay promised severance, failed to follow layoff notification requirements, discriminated on the basis of age, sex, and disability, and failed to pay vendors and employee bonuses.
We have more than a dozen class action cases we filed in court and close to 2,000 individual arbitrations
Shannon Liss-Riordan, attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Register in a phone interview that her firm is helping about 2,000 former employees press their claims against Twitter. "We have more than a dozen class action cases we filed in court and close to 2,000 individual arbitrations," she said.
Twitter has refused to pay for some arbitrations, so Liss-Riordan said her firm has filed a petition to compel arbitration. "We're going to be shortly moving forward with a motion to force Twitter to proceed with those arbitrations and pay for them," she said.
Her firm has previously represented former employees making claims of sex and age discrimination against Twitter.
The latest complaint, filed Tuesday, expands the gamut of alleged discrimination to include race discrimination and violations of the Family Medical Leave Act, which entitles employees to take unpaid family or medical leave without jeopardizing their jobs or health insurance.
"We're in the process of trying to consolidate these different discrimination cases," said Liss-Riordan. "This is just further evidence of the fact that discrimination claims are pretty interrelated. There are a number of employees who have multiple discrimination claims if they're in different protected categories."
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Atypically, the complaint includes statistical data analysis to support the allegations.
The court filing states approximately 2,686 out of 4,964 employees were notified they were being let go on November 4, 2022, according to the data released under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA).
"Prior to the layoffs that day, Twitter employed approximately 248 employees age fifty (50) or over and 4,716 employees under the age of fifty (50) in the United States," the complaint says. "Of those employees, approximately 149 employees age fifty (50) or over and 2,537 employees under the age of fifty (50) were notified that day they were being laid off.
"Thus, 60 percent of employees age fifty (50) or over were laid off on November 4, 2022, while 54 percent of employees under the age of fifty (50) were laid off."
The complaint cites statistical analysis conducted by labor economist Mark Killingsworth, a professor in the Department of Economics at Rutgers University, which suggests the odds of this disparity being due to chance is just 0.0529 and is thus likely to have been deliberate.
The legal filing includes a similar analysis for layoffs affecting female workers.
"Prior to the layoffs that day, Twitter employed approximately 2,234 female employees and 2,900 male employees in the United States," the complaint says. "Of those employees, approximately 1,271 females and 1,350 males were notified that day they were being laid off. Thus, 57 percent of female employees were laid off on November 4, 2022, while 47 percent of male employees were laid off."
Killingsworth's analysis suggests, "the odds that this disparity between women and men being laid off is due only to chance is 0.00000000000001 (or, put another way, 9.977 out of 100 trillion)."
And in engineering roles, the disparity appears to be skewed further still: Twitter is said to have employed about 863 female and 1,834 male employees in engineer-related roles in the US. And it is said to have notified 507 females and 826 males that they were being laid off. That means 59 percent of females in engineering-related roles lost their jobs, compared to 45 percent of males in similar positions.
The odds for that happening by chance: 0.00000000000001, or 1.103 out of 100 trillion.
This is the type of statistical significance that courts have relied on in finding discrimination
"We were able to do an upfront statistical analysis, which is why we've included that in the complaint," said Liss-Riordan, "although it is not required that you have that level of specificity when you first file a complaint."
"The evidence that we have already on the statistical impact of these layoffs on protected groups is significant," she continued. "This is the type of statistical significance that courts have relied on in finding discrimination. That's established in the case law."
The complaint further contends that "Musk’s history of support for racist groups and hate speech directed at Black people" demonstrates his animus against Black people and that his views can be imputed to Twitter since he oversaw and managed those conducting the layoffs.
It also cites public statements by the billionaire that allegedly show contempt for old people and for women.
"The use of statistical evidence of this type, if accurate, is exceptionally helpful to proving discrimination and negating Twitter's claims that they took legitimate business actions in terminating workers," said Wendy Musell, counsel to employment law firm Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP and a partner of the Law Offices of Wendy Musell, in an email to The Register.
"It is also very strong evidence to present to a jury."
Twitter, which from March until mid-July, auto-responded to journalists' inquiries with a single poop emoji, auto-responded to The Register's request for comment with, "We'll get back to you soon."