Recently, another technology company defeated class certification in a gender discrimination lawsuit. On July 3, 2018, a California state court judge denied female Twitter employees class certification in a lawsuit entitled Huang v. Twitter. This ruling follows a federal judge’s denial of class-action status to females in a gender bias case against Microsoft Corporation. Similar cases are currently pending against Google and Oracle.
In Huang v. Twitter, the named plaintiff, Tina Huang, initially sued Twitter in 2015 and alleged that Twitter wrongly fired her, and that Twitter’s promotion process leads to an environment where female employees are less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts. The case is venued in San Francisco Superior Court, where Judge Mary Wiss found the 135 current and former female technical employees in the putative class could not proceed as a class because they did not have enough in common in terms of allegedly being held back from promotions and receiving raises based on their gender.
In trying to establish class certification, Huang alleged managers act as “gatekeepers” to better jobs at Twitter by deciding who is nominated and/or considered for a promotion. Huang alleged that Twitter instituted a “uniform practice” of allowing managers to nominate software engineers for promotion if they met certain criteria, which disparately impacted women. She also relied upon Twitter’s 2014 promotion policy to argue that there were common issues of law and fact, such as how managers nominating candidates for promotion were instructed to consider employees’ concrete contributions to projects or the overall quality of their work. Huang relied upon declarations from class members describing a “brogrammer” culture at Twitter, and a 2017 report by an economist and statistician, which concluded that fewer females were promoted when compared to their male counterparts.
In relying upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s Walmart Stores v. Dukes standard, Judge Wiss held that the putative class could not show that Twitter had a “common mode of exercising discretion” for denying promotions to women as the employees’ individual allegations were too diverse to proceed as a class. Likewise, the Court held that the Huang “failed to satisfy her burden of presenting substantial evidence to show that managers at Twitter acted as “gatekeepers” with respect to the promotion process involving the putative class,” and that Duke’s “common mode” standard was not met since managers’ discretion was not uniform. As such, Huang did not satisfy the “community of interest” standard that would allow the case to proceed as a class action.
The Court also found that Huang failed to establish that her claims were “typical” of the entire class because, unlike the class she sought to represent, Plaintiff’s promotions were not hindered by her manager’s “gatekeeping.” Lastly, the Court found that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that a class action was the superior method for resolving the case as numerous individual factual inquiries would have to be made regarding whether or not individual managers acted as “gatekeepers” regarding the promotion process.
Thus, the Huang case can be cited by technology (and other) companies to defend against class claims based on alleged gender bias.
We have extensive counseling and litigation experience in the class action area. If you would like to discuss these issues further, or have any questions about this blog, please contact us.