Pinterest shareholders are suing the company’s top executives, including CEO Ben Silbermann, for allegedly enabling a culture of discrimination. The toxic work environment has hurt the company’s reputation, leading to a user boycott and financial harm, the complaint alleges.
The CEO “repeatedly placed himself before the Company, surrounding himself with yes-men and marginalizing women who dared to challenge Pinterest’s White, male leadership clique,” the complaint says. The company ignored or silenced employees who tried to speak out.
The plaintiff in the suit is the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island, which oversees $8.5 billion in public assets, including retirement funds for thousands of Rhode Island teachers, firefighters, and nurses.
The suit claims Pinterest executives and board members breached their fiduciary duty by failing to respond to allegations of workplace discrimination. “Even when presented with widespread claims of race and gender discrimination at Pinterest, the [executives and board members] did nothing to address this misconduct,” it says.
Issues with Pinterest’s internal culture first surfaced in June, when Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks went public with allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation. The women helped lead some of Pinterest’s most high-profile initiatives, including banning anti-vax content and limiting the spread of plantation wedding posts, but were underpaid compared to white male colleagues.
Two months after Ozoma and Banks came forward, Pinterest’s former COO Françoise Brougher sued for discrimination and retaliation. She said she was left out of key meetings, given gendered feedback, and underpaid compared to her male colleagues, according to The New York Times. When she spoke out about her mistreatment, she says she was fired.
Brougher’s suit shined a spotlight on chief financial officer Todd Morgenfeld, who’d asked her “What is your job anyway?” in front of teammates and undermined her accomplishments in a performance review. When Brougher brought these complaints to Silbermann, he compared the conflict to “an old couple fighting over who would make coffee.”
The shareholder suit says Pinterest executives violated securities law when they failed to disclose Brougher’s pay compared to male colleagues. This caused the company to file a “false and misleading” proxy statement to the SEC, deceiving investors about its compensation practices.
The Verge investigated the finance team, finding new stories of unequal treatment for women and people of color at the company. McKenna Rogers, who worked there in 2018, said her manager asked inappropriate questions about her personal life, made a sex joke at a team happy hour, and retaliated when she tried to speak up. “After Rogers declined his advances and went to the HR department for help, her supervisor cancelled meetings, cut her off from work, and berated her,” the shareholder lawsuit says.
This isn’t the first time shareholders have tried to hold companies accountable in the wake of significant press coverage. In September, Google’s parent company Alphabet settled a series of shareholder lawsuits claiming the company had created a toxic work environment where women were repeatedly sexually harassed. The complaints came after The New York Times reported the company protected former executive Andy Rubin, paying him $90 million after he was investigated for sexual harassment.
Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands also faced legal action after The New York Times published a report on the culture of misogyny at the company. Defendants hoped to get records and further investigate the firm, according to Business Insider.
In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Pinterest spokesperson said: “Pinterest’s leadership and Board take their fiduciary duties seriously and are committed to continuing our efforts to help ensure that Pinterest is a place where all of our employees feel included and supported. We believe the actions we’ve initiated as well as the ongoing independent review regarding our culture, policies, and practices will help us achieve our goal of building a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for everyone.”
Update December 1st, 2:47PM EST: This article was updated to include a statement from Pinterest.