Yahoo Accused of Reverse Gender Bias by Fired Male Worker

Yahoo Accused of Reverse Gender Bias by Fired Male Worker

SACRAMENTO — A former Yahoo Inc. editorial director has sued the company for gender discrimination, alleging that female executives manipulated an employee evaluation system to get rid of him.

In a suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Gregory Anderson seeks unspecified damages and a judicial declaration that the Sunnyvale-based search engine and media company used its quarterly performance reviews, or QPRs, to justify at-will terminations that were in reality “capricious, arbitrary and the product of bias.”

A statement issued Monday by Yahoo did not specifically address Anderson’s gender discrimination claims but said that the company’s review process provides employees “meaningful, regular, and actionable feedback from others.”

“We believe this process allows our team to develop and do their best work,” the statement said. “Our performance review process also allows for high performers to engage in increasingly larger opportunities at our company, as well as for low performers to be transitioned out.”

The lawsuit was filed a day before Yahoo is expected to announce layoffs of up to 15 percent of its workforce as part of a large cost-cutting effort.

Yahoo hired Anderson in November 2010 as managing editor of the auto section. Less than two years later he was promoted to editorial director of five sections and soon after that received restricted stock options as part of an employee retention program, the suit claims.

In May 2014, Anderson was awarded a Knight-Wallace fellowship at the University of Michigan, a yearlong program that allows journalists to study and work on longer-term projects. Anderson said his supervisors approved of his application to the program and congratulated him when he was accepted. But in November 2014, while Anderson was still in Michigan, Yahoo’s vice president for news called to say he was fired after his QPR score placed him among the bottom 5 percent of employees in the company, according to the lawsuit.

Anderson’s suit says company executives really fired him because they wanted more women in Yahoo’s top positions. He said he heard one supervisor saying the company was looking for a woman to fill the vacant auto editor job while admitting “I know that looks bad.” Anderson also says that 14 of the 16 senior-level editorial employees hired by Yahoo for the media group over an 18-month period were women.

“There was a sea change when [CEO] Marissa Mayer came on board and started recruiting her people,” said Anderson’s attorney, Jon Parsons of the Jon R. Parsons Law Firm in Palo Alto. “We started to see a dramatic change in the gender makeup” of the media organization. The lawsuit also takes aim at the performance reviews, accusing Yahoo of using them to mask layoffs as mass at-will terminations, a distinction that allowed the company to avoid public notifications under state and federal laws. Anderson said executives who had no direct working relationship with an employee would sometimes lower his or her QPR score without offering a reason or consulting the worker’s supervisor.

The former editorial director said, too, that another employee offered him a bribe in November 2013 if he would lower a co-worker’s QPR score. Anderson said he complained to Yahoo’s ethics office about the bribe but nothing happened to the employee.

Parsons said Monday that Anderson remains unemployed.

Contact the reporter at cmiller@alm.com.

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