Twitter faces gender bias lawsuit

An ex-employee's proposed class-action lawsuit alleges the social network's arcane promotion process discriminates against women.

Rochelle Garner Features Editor / News
Rochelle Garner is features editor for CNET News. A native of the mythical land known as Silicon Valley, she has written about the technology industry for more than 20 years. She has worked in an odd mix of publications -- from National Geographic magazine to MacWEEK and Bloomberg News.
Rochelle Garner
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Twitter is the latest technology company to face allegations of sexual discrimination. James Martin/CNET

Another Silicon Valley tech giant faces accusations of gender bias.

A former female software engineer at Twitter is suing the microblogging service for allegedly using a secretive promotion process that favors men. Tina Huang claims Twitter alerts only certain people of job openings and promotion opportunities, often bypassing women, according to a report by Reuters.

Huang on Thursday filed her proposed class-action lawsuit in California state court in San Francisco, one day after an ex-employee of Facebook alleged that company was a hotbed of gender bias and discrimination. And on Saturday, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge ruled that Ellen Pao -- who is suing venture capital firm Klein Perkins Caulfied & Byers for $16 million -- can seek punitive damages if a jury finds in her favor. Pao claims the firm retaliated against her after she complained about pervasive sexual discrimination.

Facebook and Twitter are the latest tech companies facing accusations of gender bias and discrimination. Tech companies are on average 70 percent male and white, according to self-reported statistics from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies. Their stats, along with a pervasive male-dominated culture, have created heated discussions and, now, lawsuits in Silicon Valley.

Huang's lawsuit alleges Twitter has no formal job application or promotion process. Instead, secret management committees decide who gets promotions without job postings or reviews, leading to a marked gender imbalance in Twitter's technical workforce.

"Promotion into Twitter's senior technical positions is based on subjective judgments, by committees that are comprised of and dependent on upper management at Twitter, and predominantly male," according to the lawsuit, portions of which were published by Mashable. "These judgments are tainted with conscious or unconscious prejudices and gender-based stereotypes, which explains why so few women employees at Twitter advance to senior and leadership positions."

Twitter disputes Huang's allegations.

"Ms. Huang resigned voluntarily from Twitter, after our leadership tried to persuade her to stay," a Twitter spokesman said in a statement. "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."

Huang is urging "all current and former female employees of Twitter denied promotions in the three years prior to the filing of this complaint" to join her.