The former COO of Pinterest is suing the company for gender discrimination. Françoise Brougher says she was paid less than her male peers, repeatedly left out of important meetings, and given gendered feedback, according to her legal complaint. She was fired after speaking out about these concerns, the lawsuit says.
Brougher, who previously worked as the Global Business Lead at Square and as a VP on the advertising team at Google, according to her LinkedIn, learned of the salary inequalities when Pinterest was preparing to go public in 2019. She made less than her male peers, and her equity vested at a slower rate. After bringing this to the attention of Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, she still had to fight to be fairly compensated. The news was first reported by The New York Times.
Brougher also says she was excluded from board meetings after the IPO — a situation that might not have been unusual, except that other members of her team were asked to attend. “When you are brought in as a No. 2, you are expected to advise the CEO,” she told the New York Times in an interview. “But when you are not in the meeting where the decisions are made and don’t have the context, it makes your job harder.”
When Brougher was able to attend board meetings, which happened when she first joined the company, she noticed the board members rarely pushed back, according to her 4,400-word blog post on Medium. “Invariably, the board would be cordial, nodding their heads at my proposals and rarely asking difficult questions. This was not something I was used to,” she wrote.
When she asked Silbermann about why the board didn’t challenge them, she says he responded “I chose them.”
Brougher wrote that the management team at Pinterest was “riven by backstabbing and gossip.” She remembers one colleague saying “the only way we get things done here is hiding things.”
The behavior flew in the face of Pinterest’s values which, in early 2019, came to include “care with candor.” In reality, Brougher writes, “saying what you really thought was still dangerous at Pinterest.”
Brougher’s lawsuit also lays out alleged discrimination on the part of chief financial officer Todd Morgenfeld. According to the complaint, Morgenfeld asked Brougher “what is your job anyway?” in front of their colleagues in January 2020. Morgenfeld also gave Brougher a performance review that “demeaned Ms. Brougher’s many significant accomplishments as COO,” the lawsuit says.
When Brougher raised her concerns about this treatment to Silbermann, he suggested she approach the situation with curiosity and compared the situation to “an old couple fighting over who would make coffee.” In April, she was fired.
Brougher’s complaint follows criticism of the company from two Black employees who spoke out about mistreatment on Twitter. Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, who worked on Pinterest’s public policy team and helped lead some of the company’s lauded initiatives against health misinformation and racist content, say they were underpaid and subject to racist comments from their manager, according to The Washington Post. Both women also say they were retaliated against after coming forward about their mistreatment.
The new lawsuit is the most high-profile gender discrimination suit in Silicon Valley since Ellen Pao took the investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to court in 2012. Brougher is being represented by the same law firm that represented Pao: Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe.
In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Pinterest spokesperson said: “We remain committed to advancing our culture to ensure that Pinterest is a place where all of our employees feel included and supported, which is why there is an ongoing independent review regarding our culture, policies, and practices. We’re reviewing the complaint filed. Our employees are incredibly important to us and we take all concerns brought to our attention seriously.”
Update, 8:29PM ET: This story was updated to include information from Brougher’s blog post on Medium.
Update, 5:05PM ET: This story was updated to include a comment from Pinterest.