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Ousted COO sues Pinterest, alleges rampant gender discrimination

hostile environments —

Suit claims woman-focused social platform discriminates against female employees.

Kate Cox

A smartphone against a colorful but blurry background.

Enlarge / A Pinterest logo seen displayed on a smartphone.

The former chief operating officer of Pinterest is suing her ex-employer, claiming that the platform’s woman-friendly public face is not matched internally and instead “reflects a pattern of discrimination and exclusion.”

Pinterest hired Francoise Brougher as chief operating officer in March 2018, then fired her in April of this year. In a lawsuit (PDF) Tuesday in California, Brougher claims that her dismissal was unrelated to her performance and was instead in retaliation for complaining about sexism.

Brougher learned in 2019, while reviewing filings that Pinterest was required to make as part of its IPO, that she had been deliberately misled about executive compensation. She was therefore being paid less well than other C-suite executives, the suit alleges. After she brought the discrepancy to the attention of Chief Executive Officer Ben Silbermann, she began being squeezed out of executive and board meetings, Brougher alleged, which prevented her from being able to do her job.

“I believe that I was fired for speaking out about the rampant discrimination, hostile work environment, and misogyny that permeates Pinterest,” Brougher wrote in a personal essay about the lawsuit.” It is time to eliminate the ‘boys clubs’ that dominate far too many companies and make room for more women leaders and their ideas.”

Beyond the C-suite

Brougher is not the first to claim Pinterest fostered a hostile work environment. Two Black women who formerly worked on Pinterest’s policy team, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, both publicly disclosed in June that they left the company after experiencing and observing rampant discrimination in the office.

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“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,” Banks wrote in a tweet. She took the complaint to HR, she added, “and this is when the retaliation began.”

“I am SO proud of the initiatives I led in my time [with Pinterest],” Ozoma wrote. “I just wish it wasn’t sullied by the racism, gaslighting, & disrespect from my manager, skip level, and the company’s legal & HR leadership.”

In the wake of their allegations going viral, Ozoma, Banks, and several other Pinterest employees spoke with The Washington Post about their experiences with discrimination inside the company:

One black female former employee said she was told to stop speaking in meetings and watched her manager use the presentations she created to speak to clients instead. The woman, who was the only black person on her team, said an executive joked that she should act as “the servant” and “serve” her co-workers at a team dinner. “Everyone knew it was wrong, but nobody said anything in that moment,” said the ex-employee, who said she was too scared of retaliation to report the incident to HR.

Beyond Pinterest

Gender-based discrimination is one of Big Tech’s longest-standing problems, and lawsuits are not new.

Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao made international headlines for her 2012 lawsuit against her former firm, Kleiner Perkins, in which she alleged systematic gender discrimination.

In 2017, a group of former Google employees alleged widespread pay discrimination and sued the firm, echoing allegations the Department of Labor filed against the company. That same year, a group of employees sued Oracle—which was also facing a federal suit—with similar allegations. Tesla, too, was sued for gender discrimination that year.

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Businesses large and small have sworn to do better in the years since, but change is, at best, slow to develop. Google’s most recent internal diversity report (PDF) found that less than one-third of the company’s employees globally are women—and only 26.7 percent of company leadership roles are occupied by women. At Facebook, a total of 37 percent of the company’s workforce are women, which drops to 34 percent in leadership roles. At Amazon, 42.7 percent of employees are women—but only 27.5 percent of managers and company leaders are.

The same day Brougher sued Pinterest, a former SoulCycle employee filed suit against the exercise technology firm, claiming the company discriminated against her and other employees when they became pregnant or took maternity leave.

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