Pinterest’s $22.5M settlement highlights tech’s inequities, say former employees who alleged discrimination

When Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, formerly of Pinterest’s policy team, alleged racial and gender discrimination at Pinterest in June, the hope was for Pinterest to make them whole and address its culture of alleged discrimination, Ozoma told TechCrunch. But that’s not what happened.

Just two months later, former Pinterest COO Françoise Brougher sued Pinterest, alleging gender discrimination, which yesterday resulted in a $22.5 million settlement. As part of the settlement, Pinterest will pay $20 million to Brougher and her attorneys, the company wrote in a filing.

“It’s about as plain a case of disparate treatment and discrimination as you can come up with,” Ozoma said.

On a call with TechCrunch today, Ozoma and Banks described a double standard in their experiences compared to Brougher’s. While Brougher received a $20 million payout, Ozoma and Banks received less than one year’s worth of severance.

“This follows the time-honored tradition in America where Black women come forward, blazing a trail, revealing injustice and white women coming in and reaping all the benefits of that,” Banks told TechCrunch.

Earlier this month, a group of shareholders filed a lawsuit against Pinterest executives, including CEO Ben Silbermann, alleging they enabled a culture of discrimination. The complaint goes on to allege that culture of discrimination has harmed Pinterest’s reputation and led to financial harm.

For Ozoma and Banks, however, they say they’ve exhausted all of their legal options and will not pursue a lawsuit. Banks said it is important to keep in mind the fact that Brougher, a former COO, had far more resources to pursue litigation.

“So we, like in many, many, many other cases, Black women put ourselves on the line, shared absolutely everything that happened to us, then laid the groundwork for someone else to swoop in and collect ‘progress,’ ” Ozoma said. “No progress has been made here because no rights have been made with people who harm has been done to.”

As a part of the settlement, both Pinterest and Brougher will commit $2.5 million toward “advancing women and underrepresented communities” in the tech industry.

“Francoise welcomes the meaningful steps Pinterest has taken to improve its workplace environment and is encouraged that Pinterest is committed to building a culture that allows all employees to feel included and supported,” Pinterest and Brougher said in a joint statement detailing the settlement.

Ozoma took issue with Pinterest and Brougher donating $2.5 million to charity. She said, “it smells rotten,” noting that she herself is an individual and not a charity.

TechCrunch reached out to Pinterest regarding Ozoma and Banks’ recent statements. Pinterest declined to comment, saying the company doesn’t comment on legal matters. In June, however, Pinterest said in a statement to TechCrunch:

We took these issues seriously and conducted a thorough investigation when they were raised, and we’re confident both employees were treated fairly. We want each and every one of our employees at Pinterest to feel welcomed, valued, and respected. As we outlined in our statement on June 2nd, we’re committed to advancing our work in inclusion and diversity by taking action at our company and on our platform. In areas where we, as a company, fall short, we must and will do better.

Pinterest employees staged a walkout in August shortly after Brougher filed her suit. In addition to the walkout, a petition circulated throughout the company demanding systemic change. The change they sought entailed full transparency about promotion levels and retention, total compensation package transparency and for the people within two layers of reporting to the CEO to be at least 25% women and 8% underrepresented employees.

Since then, Pinterest has made some changes at the board level. A couple of days after the walkout, Pinterest announced Andrea Wishom as the company’s first-ever Black board member. In October, Pinterest added its second Black board member, Salaam Coleman Smith.

Pinterest says it has also enhanced its hiring and interview processes to try to improve diversity at senior levels, updated its inclusion training and launched an internal wiki detailing how Pinterest makes compensation decisions.

Pinterest had long been considered a leader in diversity and inclusion. When asked about whether that has ever been true — if Pinterest had effectively enacted a solid DEI strategy — Ozoma was clear.

“No. If it were true, I don’t think we’d be having a conversation right now.”

Discrimination, particularly toward Black women, is systemic in the tech industry. Earlier this month, Dr. Timnit Gebru said Google fired her for an email speaking out about ethics in artificial intelligence. Banks and Ozoma told TechCrunch they are worried about a chilling effect on other Black women coming forward.

One person reached out to her, Banks said, asking about what hope other Black women have.

“That’s why we said something,” Ozoma said. “We’re not in a position that someone in the C-suite would have been. But our integrity means more than anything else, and if we can help other folks, we will.”