Policy

Pinterest is facing a civil rights investigation in California

California’s Civil Rights Department has reached out to former Pinterest employees, including whistleblower Ifeoma Ozoma, as possible witnesses.

Signage at the Pinterest headquarters office in San Francisco.

“CCRD is conducting an investigation into Pinterest, and you have been identified as a potential witness,” the email to possible witnesses reads.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pinterest is under investigation by California's Civil Rights Department, and whistleblower and former Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma is among those who have been contacted as possible witnesses.

The department reached out to Ozoma and other potential witnesses Tuesday night, asking to interview them in connection with the investigation. “The mission of the CCRD is to protect the people of California from unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, in employment, among other areas,” the email, which was reviewed by Protocol, reads. “CCRD is conducting an investigation into Pinterest, and you have been identified as a potential witness.”

Ozoma said she has heard from other former colleagues who also received the email, all of them women.

Pinterest confirmed the existence of the investigation when contacted by Protocol. “At Pinterest, we believe in fostering an open workplace culture where employees feel safe and empowered to raise any concerns about their work experience,” LeMia Jenkins Thompson, chief communications officer at Pinterest, wrote in a statement. “The California Civil Rights Department (CCRD) is conducting investigations of a number of companies, and Pinterest is one of them. Our discussions with the CCRD are ongoing and we remain committed to reviewing and evolving our people practices to best support our employees.”

The Civil Rights Department did not respond to Protocol’s questions about the nature of the investigation or its targets.

The investigation comes two years after Ozoma and her former Pinterest colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks alleged in a series of viral tweets that they faced discrimination and retaliation at the company. Pinterest settled a gender discrimination suit with its former COO, Françoise Brougher, for $22.5 million in 2020.

Since that time, Ozoma and Banks have advocated for increased protections for workers across the country, and particularly in the tech industry. Ozoma was a co-sponsor of California’s Silenced No More Act, a law that prohibits California employers from imposing non-disclosure agreements that prevent workers from speaking out about illegal workplace harassment and discrimination. It expanded upon a #MeToo-era law that specifically protected workers who wanted to speak out about gender harassment and discrimination. An even broader version of the Silenced No More Act has since passed in Washington state, backed by former employees of Apple and Google.

Ozoma has also helped push forward shareholder proposals that pressure tech companies to include the language in the Silenced No More Act in their own employee agreements. So far, the coalition Ozoma is working with has notched victories with Salesforce, Apple, Google and others. Pinterest was the first company to publicly make the commitment, with former CEO Ben Silbermann announcing the change to its non-disclosure agreements on the same day last year Ozoma published an op-ed on the topic in The New York Times. Silbermann stepped down from the CEO role in June but remains Pinterest’s executive chair.

After Ozoma and Banks came forward with their stories, Pinterest hired a new global head of diversity and inclusion, Tyi McCray, in August 2020. “In my short time working with the Pinterest team and Ben, I've seen a real acknowledgement about the hard work and commitment that will be needed from all of us to get us to where we want to be as an organization,” McCray wrote in a statement when she joined the company. Less than a year later, McCray also left.

Pinterest isn’t the only tech company under fire by California’s Civil Rights Department, formerly known as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The department has also sued Tesla, alleging discrimination against Black workers. Tesla is expected to ask for that case to be dismissed during a hearing on Wednesday.

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