Pinterest Inc. fired its top female executive for pointing out gender bias in a male-dominated leadership team, a suit filed Tuesday in a state court in San Francisco alleges.
Former chief operating officer Francoise Brougher says she was discriminated against by her male peers, offered a less favorable compensation structure, and ultimately fired over video call after seeking to rectify the hostile work environment created by a male colleague’s sexist comments.
According to Brougher’s complaint, the bias she faced prior to being fired came in multiple forms. While male colleagues were rewarded for strong leadership styles, she was criticized for not being compliant, and gender-biased attitudes were prevalent in the company leadership team.
She was allegedly offered a less favorable compensation structure than male peers, earning 37% of the equity earned by CFO Todd Morgenfeld in their first year. Unlike Morgenfeld, her equity grant was backloaded—she was scheduled to vest the majority of her shares over the last two years of a five-year grant.
After raising her concerns to the CEO, Brougher says an adjustment to her IPO retention grant was ultimately authorized, but from that point on she was harassed and excluded by her male peers.
Brougher alleges Pinterest did nothing to stop the discriminatory and harassing conduct, and that its culture of relying on one-on-one informal meetings operated to exclude her.
“Pinterest’s pattern of consistently elevating male voices over female voices set the stage for the company’s retaliation against her,” the complaint says.
When Brougher complained about a peer review Morgenfeld had written about her 2019 achievements, in which he had allegedly written only that she “seems to be a champion for diversity issues,” her concerns were largely ignored.
She alleges she hadn’t led any diversity initiatives and had no formal role in that area, and that Morgenfeld was reducing a female executive’s achievements to “diversity,” while ignoring her business accomplishments in leading operations.
Brougher says she was ultimately fired in April 2020 over video call, while the company was working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Pinterest spokesperson told Bloomberg Law the company was reviewing the complaint and that there is an ongoing independent review regarding company culture, policies and practices.
“We remain committed to advancing our culture to ensure that Pinterest is a place where all of our employees feel included and supported,” the spokesperson said. “Our employees are incredibly important to us and we take all concerns brought to our attention seriously.”
Causes of Action: Gender discrimination; retaliation; wrongful termination.
Relief: Compensatory damages including lost equity, lost back earnings, future lost earnings and fringe benefits; injunctive relief including reinstatement and a prohibition on further discrimination; punitive damages; pre and post judgment interest; attorneys’ fees; costs.
Attorneys: Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe LLP represents Brougher.
The case is Brougher v. Pinterest Inc., Cal. Super. Ct., No. CGC-20-585888, 8/11/20.