Twitter Inc. has successfully fought off class action claims from female software engineers who alleged a “boys club” and “brogrammer culture” at the social media company prevents women from receiving equal opportunities compared to male counterparts.
Lawyers for former Twitter engineer Tina Huang had pushed to certify a class of 135 female software engineers. Huang’s suit in San Francisco Superior Court claims the company’s promotion system favors men over women in getting shots at top jobs.
Superior Court Judge Mary Wiss, ruling on July 3 against class certification, pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 decision Walmart Stores v. Dukes. The ruling made it more difficult for plaintiffs to get class actions certified. Disparate impact alone is not enough to allow a class to form.
“This court concludes that plaintiff failed to satisfy the commonality requirement necessary to certify the proposed class,” Wiss wrote. “In addition, the court also finds that plaintiff’s claims are not typical of the class, and that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the class action mechanism is the superior method for adjudicating class members’ claims in this case.”
The ruling for Twitter is the second in recent weeks in which workers lost a class certification battle with a major tech company. Microsoft Corp. recently brushed off class certification as part of a gender bias lawsuit in a Seattle federal court. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe attorneys represent Twitter and Microsoft in their respective cases.
Huang’s attorney Jason Lohr said he will likely appeal the ruling from Wiss. Lohr cited the “steep hill” presented for such lawsuits seeking class certification. He said he is skeptical of the court’s interpretations of the Supreme Court ruling.
“Of course, we are disappointed with the ruling. It’s yet another ruling that is supported by Dukes,” said Lohr of San Francisco’s Lohr Ripamonti & Segarich. “Dukes was 1.5 million people. Microsoft was 8,500. Our class is 135 individuals who can’t get certified. These rulings are basically saying no class of women in similar circumstances can get certified.”
A lawyer for Twitter, Orrick employment partner Lynne Hermle, was not immediately reached for comment Thursday.
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Huang, who joined Twitter in 2009 as one of the company’s first female engineers, sued the company in 2015 after she failed to receive a promotion for which she says was qualified. She filed for class certification last year on behalf of fellow female engineers.
The discrimination case against Twitter was one of several pending against Silicon Valley companies confronting labor and employment practices. Plaintiffs have targeted tech companies for alleged unequal treatment of women and minorities. Other ongoing lawsuits confront gender equity at Google Inc. and Oracle Corp.
In March, Wiss did allow pay-equity class claims to move forward against Google. In that case, the judge found a uniform practice that would unify a proposed class of thousands of women. She approved the proposed class in part, citing a policy at the company that considers prior salary in the hiring process to set compensation. That policy could perpetuate gender pay gaps, Wiss concluded.
James Finberg at Altshuler Berzon in San Francisco, who represented the plaintiffs against Google, told The Recorder at the time that “the case lays out a road map for how to certify a gender pay equity case.” A companywide policy that uses prior pay to determine salary “can serve as a basis for certifying a class of the person’s subject to the policy.”
Lohr maintains a uniform policy can be identified at Twitter, as well. He said the rules that govern promotions is a common policy. As for next steps, he said, “We’ll just carry on.”
Read the class certification ruling in Huang v. Twitter below: