Update: Dec. 15, 2020: Pinterest and Brougher have agreed to settle the lawsuit for $22.5 million, the company announced in a Dec. 14 Securities and Exchange Commission filing. "The settlement includes a payment of $20 million to be paid to Ms. Brougher and her attorneys as well as a commitment of $2.5 million to be used towards advancing women and underrepresented communities in the technology industry," it said.
- Pinterest's former COO has sued the social media company, alleging retaliation for pointing out biases in the company's hiring, compensation and promotion processes. Francoise Brougher claimed in the Aug. 11 suit that she was fired for speaking out about these alleged discriminatory practices, in violation of state law (Brougher v. Pinterest, Inc., No. 20-585888 (Calif. Superior Ct. Aug. 11, 2020)).
- Brougher, who worked at Charles Schwab, Google and Square before joining Pinterest, alleged she was offered a less desirable equity package than her male peers and excluded from decision-making. She claimed she was subjected to a hostile work environment and was ultimately fired by company CEO Ben Silbermann for complaining.
- "[W]heareas male executives were rewarded for strong leadership styles, Ms. Brougher was criticized for not being compliant or collaborative enough," the lawsuit stated. "[W]hen Ms. Brougher complained to [the company's CHRO and CEO] that Pinterest's Chief Financial Officer made demeaning sexist comments to her, and she asked for help to remedy the hostile work environment, Mr. Silbermann summarily fired her over a video call," it alleged.
"Although 70 percent of Pinterest's users are women, the company is steered by men with little input from female executives," Brougher wrote in a Medium post. "Pinterest's female executives, even at the highest levels, are marginalized, excluded, and silenced."
"According to Pinterest," she later wrote, "I was fired not for the results I achieved, but for not being 'collaborative.' I believe that I was fired for speaking out about the rampant discrimination, hostile work environment, and misogyny that permeates Pinterest."
Brougher's suit comes just two months after two former Pinterest employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, made similar allegations in an interview with CNBC. The two said they felt compelled to leave the company in May after a year that Ozoma described as "pure hell." "I put this out there with the call to action and the hope that real systemic change happens within the industry and beyond," Banks said.
According to Pinterest's diversity report, company leadership is 1% Black, 2% Hispanic or Latinx, and 25% female. "Although Pinterest publicly laments the lack of diversity in its leadership, in practice, it turns a blind eye to the biased thinking that limit women's opportunities for success in leadership roles," Brougher's lawsuit said.
Issues of toxic culture can be quite expensive, with SHRM estimating in 2019 that it has cost employers over $230 billion over the past five years. While any industry is susceptible to failures in this area, Silicon Valley's tech darlings have seen a particularly sharp change in their perception after a number of stories about work environments where credos like "move fast and break things" dominated the culture.
In the worst instances, companies have been found to have cultures with no rules, a "Wild West" where anything goes as long as the profit arrow moves in the right direction.
To prevent these types of problems, startups are increasingly looking to hire people management leaders earlier in their trajectory. These leaders should be empowered to investigate matters as they're raised, legal experts recently told HR Dive, even if the pandemic created additional hurdles.