Twitter’s Elon Musk is warned to prepare for ‘hundreds, if not thousands’ of arbitration cases

FILE - Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks before unveiling the Model Y at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, Calif., March 14, 2019. On Friday, July 15, 2022, Musk hit back at Twitter's lawsuit targeting to force it to complete its $44 billion acquisition of the platform, according to multiple reports.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Chief executive Elon Musk has been intent on completely revamping Twitter since buying the company in October, which has resulted in a number of lawsuits. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Powerhouse labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan and former Twitter employees stood outside the San Francisco federal courthouse Thursday with a message for Elon Musk: They won’t back down.

“The richest man in the world is not above the law,” said Liss-Riordan, whose team is representing clients in four different class action lawsuits against Twitter.

Since Elon Musk took control of the social media giant in October, he has delivered on his promise to a collective dismissal and a complete overhaul of the business. Even as managers and employees quit, he issued an ultimatum: commit to a new “hardcore” Twitter 2.0 in which employees had to work long hours, or walk away with three months of severance pay.

The lawsuits came instantly.

As questions continue to swirl around Musk’s next move, the ex-employees, through their attorneys, are seeking every possible avenue to secure the benefits they feel they are entitled to following the tumultuous takeover. . But they may have to face a long road before seeing results, in part because many uncertainties remain about how they will proceed.

The first case was filed one day ahead of Twitter’s first round of mass layoffs on November 4 with Emmanuel Cornet as one of the main complainants. Cornet was the first employee to be fired from Twitter and also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices. The case alleges that Cornet was part of the layoffs and did not receive proper notice under federal and state worker adjustment and retraining law or severance pay.

The latest case was filed Wednesday night alleging the company disproportionately targeted women in its layoffs. The complaint cited a report that 57% of female employees and 47% of male employees were terminated on November 4, which was found to be statistically significant.

Liss-Riordan is also representing Dmitry Borodaenko, the lead plaintiff in a case against the company alleging discrimination against employees with disabilities. Borodaenko, a cancer survivor vulnerable to COVID-19, said he was fired after refusing to return to office.

Despite the legal challenges that have already begun, much hinges on two major court decisions that will determine the way forward for workers.

First, the court is expected to rule early next week on an urgent motion that Liss-Riordan filed Nov. 9 in the Cornet case. Although the terminated employees have still not received their formal severance agreements from the company, Twitter said it will require employees to sign a release of claims document to receive their severance pay. Signing the document would prevent former employees from taking legal action, Liss-Riordan said.

The emergency motion would prevent Twitter from requesting these releases without first notifying employees of the pending class action lawsuit and contact information for legal counsel. A similar motion was filed in a case against Tesla demand from the car manufacturer to notify terminated employees of pending litigation.

The second decision, to be heard in January, relates to arbitration agreements that most Twitter employees signed as terms of employment.

Under this clause, employees with legal claims against Twitter must pursue individual arbitration, barring them from participating in or benefiting from any class action lawsuits brought against the company. Twitter has filed a motion to enforce this agreement, which Liss-Riordan opposes.

Liss-Riordan said his team is ready to help file hundreds of arbitration cases against the company if the court chooses to enforce the arbitration agreement.

“We’ll show you one by one and then we’ll file hundreds or even thousands of individual cases,” she said.

Liss-Riordan has waged similar mass arbitration campaigns against companies such as IBM, which forced workers to sign arbitration agreements and applied them successfully, she said.

Some former Twitter employees have already taken the way of arbitration. Former employee Helen Sage-Lee has filed a lawsuit with the help of her attorney, Lisa Bloom, claiming that the terms of the deal to buy Twitter from Musk required her to provide severance and other benefits. benefits “no less favourable” than that promised by his previous leadership for at least one year.

The pre-acquisition package offered at least two months of severance package as well as pro-rated performance bonuses, extended visa support, cash for continued healthcare and cash value of assets own that would vest within three months, according to laid-off employees as well as company documents reviewed by The Times.

Two of the class action lawsuits filed by Liss-Riordan rely on similar arguments. While employees were offered two months’ pay during a period of “unemployment” to comply with federal WARN law, which requires 60 days’ notice before mass layoffs, Liss-Riordan argued that it doesn’t matter. not in the actual severance package promised to employees.

Twitter, which no longer has a formal communications team, could not be reached for comment.

While some brace themselves for lengthy legal battles, not everyone is ready to take legal action just yet. A number of former Twitter employees are still biding their time while consulting with lawyers and weighing their options.

An engineering manager who was part of the Nov. 4 layoff said some feared they were still bound by employee guidelines because they are still on non-work and tethered to Twitter while not working really for the business.

“So we’re supposed to act like employees right now, even if we’re not working,” he said. “The last thing I want to get is to be fired for cause.”

The employee said he was very concerned about the next vesting date of the shares, which is February 1. The terms of the merger agreement are expected to protect equity acquired within three months, which for many employees on the technical side can be worth much more than a month’s salary.

“For me, that would be the main reason I would consider joining a trial – if it wasn’t delivered as promised,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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