UPDATE : Twitter hit with another lawsuit from laid off employees . But it could have a key weakness.
Standing with her hand on a just-unboxed kitchen sink in an echo of Elon Musk's now-infamous entrance as Twitter's new owner, attorney Lisa Bloom said Monday she was taking legal action against the world's richest man over how he went about laying off thousands of employees.
Bloom, who operates out of Calabasas (Los Angeles County), said she would bring cases against the San Francisco company and Musk on behalf of Helen-Sage Lee, Adrian Trejo Nuñez and Amir Shevat, all former Twitter employees she said were unfairly and illegally impacted by last month's mass layoffs that affected around half the company.
The cases are being brought in private arbitration instead of a public court since Twitter employees, even before Musk's acquisition of the company, signed away their rights to a jury trial as part of their employment terms. Arbitrations can be kept private and are overseen by a third-party arbitrator, often a retired judge.
Employees also waived their rights to join a class-action case against the company, meaning the arbitrations, which the company must pay for, will be brought one by one, Bloom said, with Lee's demand for arbitration filed Friday; the two others planned to file Monday.
Twitter, which reportedly no longer has a communications team after the layoffs, did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Bloom has represented clients in a range of sexual abuse and harassment cases, including those that saw Fox News host Bill O'Reilly fired from the network. She also advised disgraced film producer and convicted abuser Harvey Weinstein, although she stepped down from that role after criticism mounted.
At issue, Bloom said, was the company reneging on promised severance packages, failing to give employees the legally required notice they would lose their jobs and civil rights violations.
"I want to keep Twitter accountable to deliver the severance packages that were promised," said Lee, who formerly worked on the account integrity and harmful group activity team at Twitter, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Employees were told they would be kept on payroll until Jan. 4, but the litigants said they had been promised three months of severance. The group also said the company had promised them bonuses and stock vesting before Musk's takeover.
Twitter violated the terms of the takeover agreement by offering employees only one month of severance if they signed a waiver of any claims against the company, attorneys wrote in the filing on Lee's behalf.
Bloom and the employees talked of watching their own work accounts and those of their coworkers shut down without warnings during the initial round of mass layoffs last month.
"The primary thrust of the case is promises made and promises broken," Bloom said. "Those promises were made in writing and are enforceable."
The company also violated the state's WARN Act, which requires 60 days' notice to employees and local governments ahead of mass layoffs, Bloom said.
"Twitter laid people off with no notice or a few hours notice," she said, although the company later filed the notices and pushed out official dates of separation to January.
The filing also said that cutting off employee access meant those affected were no longer being treated as employees, despite their being kept on payroll into the new year.
Another of the litigants is the company's former product head for its developer tools, Shevat, who said Musk's acquisition had pumped hate speech on the site, "dangerously exposing us to hate and antisemitism."
The site has seen a large increase in hate speech since Musk's takeover, the New York Times reported , something Musk has denied in his tweets.
Bloom said the three clients were not the only former Twitter employees she represented, and that some cases would allege civil rights violations. She said employees had been terminated while on parental, medical and other types of leave, and that the company discriminated in making the cuts based on gender and sexual orientation.
Lee's claims also alleged the company had inflicted intentional emotional distress on her and others, and that "she was subject to the reduction in force because of her status as an Asian woman" and would seek a right-to-sue letter to bring those claims in court.
"I've had to scramble to look for a new job and interview on short notice after being laid off," said Trejo Nuñez, a former software engineer who said he was part of groups at the company for LGBTQ and disabled employees.
Worrying about the promised severance, especially during the holidays, "means a lot of sleepless nights," said Shevat. "Not just for me," he added, but for his former team at the company affected by the layoffs.
The demand for arbitration filed on Lee's behalf is seeking stock vests, bonuses, and two months of base pay, as well as statutory penalties and fines, attorneys' fees and other damages.
Chase DiFeliciantonio is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected]
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