Just last week, social media giant Twitter made headlines when one of its teams decided to hold a frat-themed party in the office, paid for by the company. The party was complete with kegs of beer, red plastic cups, beer pong, and a sign written in Greek-themed font that read “Twitter frat house.” While the party itself should have been newsworthy on its own, it became even more so given that in March of this year a former employee sued Twitter for sex discrimination, claiming the company made it difficult for women to obtain promotions and engaged in tactics designed keep women out of higher ranking positions.
In this day and age, we rarely see discrimination lawsuits where overt discrimination occurs. Rare are the cases where someone pens a note to the file saying, “don’t hire her – this is a man’s job” or drafts a memo stating “he seems too old, let’s get rid of him and hire someone younger instead.” Instead, plaintiffs’ employment lawyers have to be creative and strategic as we search for evidence to prove discrimination. One way we can do this is examining a company’s culture. Emails (i.e. jokes and forwards) are often telling, as are extracurricular activities like the frat-themed party. We can also look at numbers, such as the makeup of the board or the number of minorities employed overall and in particular positions. Twitter, for example, is 70 percent male. In the Twitter lawsuit, the frat-themed party will certainly be an important piece of evidence in proving sex discrimination occurred at Twitter.
In the wake of the lawsuit and the party, Twitter is apparently ramping up its diversity efforts with promises that diversity-themed goals will become part of teams’ required quarterly goals going forward. While this may primarily be to reduce the risk of future lawsuits, the party debacle demonstrates why it is so important for employees to come forward. If Twitter had not been in the middle of a sex discrimination lawsuit, its reaction to the party may have been milder and it may not have taken serious steps to ensure that diversity becomes a company-wide goal. Here, not only is the former employee standing up for herself but she is also making sure the company will be a more inclusive place for both current and future employees. We will be watching to see how it all turns out.
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