Recently, after the Twitter layoffs in November, Justine De Caires is planning to make Elon Musk pay for his Twitter sins.
Justine De Caires began to worry earlier this year as it appeared that Elon Musk would lose his legal battle and be forced to buy Twitter.
De Caires, a three and a half year veteran software developer at Twitter, anticipated that a Musk takeover would result in a wave of layoffs. Unlike most people, the 25-year-old had carefully followed the court case between the social media business and the billionaire and had studied the entire merger agreement. DeCaires, who uses they/them pronouns, said, “I get fascinated and interested in things very easily.
According to De Caires, Twitter executives pledged to uphold a large severance package in the event of a Musk takeover. However, the engineer had second thoughts and began seeking for labour law experts with experience negotiating with major IT corporations. The first email was sent to Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Massachusetts lawyer who had sued Tesla months before. That day, the lawyer gave a follow-up call.
“It was kind of like, ‘OK, let’s wait and see how this goes,’” De Caires recalled of that first conversation. “But when things started happening—oh, she was ready.”
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Lawsuits have a lot of room to grow after Twitter’s massive layoffs in November—a metaphorical Red Wedding that reduced the staff in half. However, Liss-Riordan, a veteran of labour law previously known as “Sledgehammer Shannon,” was arguably the most qualified lawyer in the nation to handle the case. A gregarious 53-year-old native of Boston who has sued internet corporations like Uber and DoorDash on behalf of its employees, Liss-Riordan has obtained verdicts totaling up to $100 million.
She has received criticism as well, with opponents of her unsuccessful run for Massachusetts attorney general pointing to the millions she made through her well-known class action lawsuits and implying she was more concerned with the money than the movement—charges she vehemently refutes.
The lawyer has now filed four cases on behalf of dismissed Twitter employees, alleging violations ranging from Title VII violations to handicap discrimination. She claims that her strategy is to persuade the wealthy businessman that paying his laid-off workers would be simpler than suing them all in court.
“I find it really concerning when the richest man in the world—well, now the formerly richest man in the world—thinks that he can do whatever he wants and is above the law,” she told The Daily Beast.
“There needs to be a real deterrent to make sure that corporations [and] employers protect the rights of their employees and don’t think they can just get away with it,” she added. “It’s really important that our laws have teeth so that it’s not just like a traffic ticket for the richest man in the world.”
According to Liss-Riordan’s first lawsuit, Twitter violated the WARN Act by failing to give some employees 60 days’ notice of the layoffs and by failing to respect severance agreements with others. This accusation is identical to the one made against Tesla. She didn’t stop there, though. A similar lawsuit was brought by Liss-Riordan on behalf of contractors who were employed by a third party two weeks later. Then she got a call from engineering manager and cancer survivor Dmitry Borodaenko, who claims he was fired after telling his manager he couldn’t work under Musk’s new directive because he was immunocompromised. As soon as possible, Liss-Riordan filed a lawsuit alleging handicap discrimination on behalf of Borodaenko and other workers in a similar situation, which was later expanded to include everyone who had been let go while on medical or parental leave.
In the process, Liss-Riordan was given access to a spreadsheet detailing who of Twitter’s 7,000 employees had been let go, and she then requested that a statistician break it down by gender. In the end, 57 percent of the company’s female employees had been let go, compared to 47 percent of the male employees. This disparity, according to the complaint, could not have happened by chance more than 10 in 100 trillion times. The complaint claims that the gap in the engineering staff has continued, with 63 percent of women being laid off compared to 48 percent of males, despite Musk’s supporters saying that he emphasised retaining engineering jobs, which skew male.
Liss-Riordan filed her fourth complaint against Twitter on December 7 citing Title VII violations for gender discrimination.
“I have a family, I have a kid to support,” one of the plaintiffs, Wren Turkal, said at the press conference. “All that we’re looking for is fairness.”
Twitter is retaliating strongly, but Liss-Riordan has picked up some tricks from her dance with Tesla. She requested the judge to prevent Twitter from asking laid-off employees to sign away their right to sue without first telling them of that case as soon as she filed the first lawsuit. The judge agreed with her, similar to how he did in the Tesla case. Earlier this week, Liss-Riordan filed 100 individual arbitration demands in an effort to call Tesla’s bluff after the company declined to submit the dispute to arbitration.
“If Elon Musk wants to fight these claims one by one in individual arbitration, we are ready to fight them one by one, on behalf of potentially thousands of employees if that becomes necessary,” she said in a press release. “We have done it before and we are ready to do it again.”
It was a strategy she’d pioneered 15 years earlier while fighting an early gig economy company that classified its cleaning staff as independent contractors.
“Usually the company is like, ‘Wait, we just thought you’d all go away,’” she said with a smile. “And we’re like, ‘Sorry, you asked for it.’”
Attorneys from other companies have also gotten in on the Twitter layoff action, like Liss-Riordan. On December 5, Lisa Bloom, a well-known attorney known for both her work on sexual harassment cases and her early support of Harvey Weinstein, entered the fray with arbitration claims on behalf of three workers. At the beginning of this month, New York attorney Akiva Cohen threatened a related arbitration effort. De Caires claimed that there is a Slack channel where hundreds of Twitter employees who have been laid off discuss which suits to join or which lawyers to hire.
De Caires, though, is happy with their selection. The engineer frequently questions Liss-Riordan, “I saw this in something that Twitter filed, what do you expect is going to happen next?” after reading everything on the case docket.
“She tells me what she expects, and a few days later, exactly that happens,” De Caires said. “I feel very good that I chose Shannon.”