On March 19, 2015, Tina Huang, a former engineer at Twitter, filed a class action suit on behalf of fifty other female employees alleging gender discrimination in Twitter’s promotion process. Ms. Huang alleges that Twitter’s management team, 79% of which are men, favored other male employees for promotions, creating a glass ceiling for women that cannot be explained or justified by any reasonable business purpose. Ms. Huang claims she was overlooked for the Senior Staff Engineer position, and when she expressed concerns about the company’s promotion policies to the Chief Executive Officer, Dick Costolo, she was ordered to go on administrative leave and was removed from assignments until she was ultimately forced to resign.
Twitter’s promotion policy is an informal, “black box” process where a committee of predominately male upper management officers decides which employees to promote. Candidates are notified of open positions through a “shoulder tap” process, rather than a transparent public job posting. Allegedly, Twitter does not publish any promotion criteria, nor any internal hiring, advancement, or application processes for employees. Whether the discrimination was intentional, this covert method of selecting candidates for promotion is disadvantageous to women because the “black box” process relies on subjective criteria, which inherently precludes external criticism and review.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) prohibits employers from discriminating against their female employers, including failing to promote women, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibit employers from adjusting wages based on gender. Despite these laws, women generally earn less than their male counterparts—a phenomenon known as a “wage gap.” Catalyst, the leading nonprofit organization expanding opportunities for women in business, reports that although women form 40% of the labor force, they currently make up only 4.8% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. Without the opportunities to progress with their male counterparts, women will be at the lower end of an unequal balance of power. Based on data collected from 2014 to 2015, the International Labour Organization’s Global Wage Report found that the United States had the widest gender wage gap—36% after adjusting for factors such as education level and work experience—among the thirty-eight countries assessed in the report.
Women should not be discouraged from seeking executive level positions. Title VII has explicitly prohibits such discrimination, yet many businesses continue to discreetly discriminate against their female employees. To create a better promotion policy, employers should post available positions for interested employees publically or on an intra-office job bank, as well as publish their selection criteria. Transparency allows for the qualifications of each candidate to be considered, and viewed neutrally, instead of left to the discretion of a few members of upper management behind closed doors. As Judge Brandeis famously said, “If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”
If you believe your employer illegally discriminated against you because of sex or gender, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.