Former Twitter employee Tina Huang has launched a proposed class-action lawsuit, claiming her former employer has a complicated promotion system that unfairly favours men over women.
In her complaint, which was obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Huang’s lawyers describe how she was denied a promotion in 2013.
According to the suit, there are eight titles in the engineering department’s hierarchy, which Twitter calls its “technical ladder.” The company posts job descriptions on its web site, but they’re allegedly meant to attract interest to Twitter only, and don’t necessarily reflect actual job openings.
Current employees cannot apply for them, the complaint says.
Though employees can nominate themselves for promotions during regular performance reviews, typically “employees are tapped on the shoulder for advancement,” according to the complaint, and it’s the manager who’s responsible for making a case as to why a particular employee should be promoted.
Once the manager makes a recommendation for a promotion, a committee of the employee’s peers and superiors decide whether to go through with it. After the committee makes a decision, no formal feedback is given to the employee, according to Huang’s complaint.
Put on leave for 3 months
Huang was hired by Twitter in October of 2009. She was promoted to Staff Engineer in 2011. Of the 164 staff engineers working at Twitter at that time, only seven were women, according to the suit. Of the 22 people occupying a senior technical position above her, all were men.
In the winter of 2013, Huang’s manager nominated her for a promotion to Senior Staff Engineer.
According to the court filing, Huang’s reviews were overwhelmingly positive, especially regarding her leadership on the Ibis project. She was ultimately denied the promotion.
The committee denied her requests for an explanation, though rumours from some managers said that it was because of her “aggressiveness” and “lack of high quality code” on the Ibis project.
“Ms. Huang decided to share her concern that Twitter’s promotion policy was arbitrary and unjust with Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO. She drafted an email articulating her concerns about Twitter’s promotion process, and discussed it with colleagues prior to sending the email to Mr. Costolo on March 3, 2014,” Huang’s complaint reads.
Shortly after, Huang was informed by her department head that she would be placed on leave while Twitter’s HR department completed an investigation, which they said would take about a week.
It lasted more than three months.
“While Ms. Huang did not understand why going on leave was necessary, she nevertheless acquiesced because she understood that the investigation would be completed in relatively short order,” Huang’s complaint reads. “Ms. Huang was extremely troubled because as a result of her absence, she was being removed from her projects. At this time, she believed that she had been functionally terminated from her position at Twitter.”
The complaint also says that Twitter revealed her complaint internally. “At this time, Ms. Huang also learned that during the investigation, HR had revealed Ms. Huang’s complaints to her colleagues. This lead to the perception that even if she did receive the promotion (which she did not), her ability to lead would be undermined because her colleagues would think she did not deserve a position because she was a complainer,” the complaint reads. “While Ms. Huang had further meetings with HR and Mr. Costolo, at no time did Twitter communicate the result of its investigation, or provide any meaningful options for moving forward. Ms. Huang was in limbo: she had a job in name only.”
Huang emailed her resignation on May 21, 2014.
A Twitter spokesperson provided this statement to Business Insider: “Ms. Huang resigned voluntarily from Twitter, after our leadership tried to persuade her to stay. She was not fired. Twitter is deeply committed to a diverse and supportive workplace, and we believe the facts will show Ms. Huang was treated fairly.”
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