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Twitter sued in class action lawsuit over mass layoffs without proper legal notice

Twitter is being sued for not giving employees advance notice of a mass layoff that began in earnest early Friday. The lawsuit alleges that Twitter violated worker protection laws, including the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act as well as the California WARN Act, both of which require 60 days of advance notice.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday as news spread that the company — now under the ownership and direction of Elon Musk — would begin mass layoffs early Friday in an effort to reduce costs by eliminating 3,700 jobs, or 50% of its total workforce.

Bloomberg first reported the news of the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.

The complaint alleges that Twitter began its layoffs November 1, when it terminated the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Emmanuel Cornet, without providing the proper written notice in violation of U.S. and California law. Additional plaintiffs, Justine De Caires, Jessica Pan, and Grae Kindel said they were terminated November 3 by being locked out of their accounts. The lawsuit added that California's Employment Development Department had not received a notice related to the mass layoffs that began Friday.

The lawsuit reminds the court that Musk has previously laid off employees without notice. Tesla, where Musk is CEO and its largest shareholder, was sued by former employees after a mass layoff in June 2022. In that case, Musk directed Tesla executives to pause all hiring and to prepare for job cuts. Employees were never given advance warning and hundreds were laid off a couple of weeks later.

Lawyers representing two Tesla workers initially filed an emergency injunction asking a judge to prohibit the EV maker from forcing workers to sign releases in exchange for less severance than federal law provides.

A lawsuit was later filed on behalf of those same employees alleging that the company did not provide the 60 days of advance notice required by federal law during a recent round of layoffs. A federal judge later ruled that Tesla must inform workers of the proposed class action lawsuit, as the termination agreements they had signed may have been misleading and caused them to waive their rights under federal law. Musk had dismissed that lawsuit as "trivial" when commenting on the lawsuit at the Qatar Economic Forum organized by Bloomberg.

In the new complaint against Twitter, the plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that Twitter has violated the federal and California WARN Acts and certify the case as a class action suit. Similar to the Tesla layoff lawsuit, lawyers are also asking the court to prohibit Twitter from forcing laid-off employees to sign documents that would release their claims without informing them of this lawsuit. The lawsuit is seeking a range of relief, including compensatory damages (including wages owed), as well as declaratory relief, pre- and post-judgment interest, plus other attorneys' fees and costs.

Under Twitter's takeover deal terms, Musk had agreed to keep employee compensation and benefits the same. That means the laid-off employees should receive 60 days of salary and the cash value of the stock they were to receive within three months of their last date at the company, per law.

“Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, has made clear that he believes complying with federal labor laws is 'trivial.' We have filed this federal complaint to ensure that Twitter should be held accountable to our laws and to prevent Twitter employees from unknowingly signing away their rights,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, said in an email sent to TechCrunch.

"Employees should be very careful about signing anything they are offered. We are prepared to file claims on behalf of Twitter employees who get laid off without proper notice or severance. We are also investigating whether Twitter has attempted to avoid its obligations to pay stock options it owes to employees by laying them off now," she added.

Twitter hasn't responded to requests for comment, likely because its communications staff has been included in the layoffs.

The company's layoff process has been chaotic and conducted in a cold fashion. Instead of being informed personally, Twitter employees were told they would receive an email with an update about their employment status by Friday 9 AM PT. If they still had a job, the email would come to their work inbox. If not, they'd receive a personal email as access to internal systems was cut off.

A number of Twitter employees around the world have already posted tweets indicating they have been laid off and are sharing sympathies with their fellow "tweeps." Twitter also closed its offices temporarily as the layoffs were underway by disabling badge access.

The transition has been one of confusion for Twitter staff. It's been reported that Twitter's new owner hadn't officially communicated with employees following the deal's closure on October 27, leading staff to learn of events by following Musk's tweets, through private chats, on workplace gossip site Blind and by reading news media reports. Immediately after the takeover, Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, General Counsel Sean Edgett and Head of Legal Policy, Trust and Safety Vijaya Gadde.

Other top executives, like Chief Consumer Officer Sarah Personette and Chief of People and Diversity Dalana Brand, handed in their resignations the following day. General manager for core technologies Nick Caldwell, Chief Marketing Officer Leslie Berland, Twitter's head of Product Jay Sullivan and its vice president of global sales, Jean-Philippe Maheu, have also left.

The company canceled its upcoming developer conference, Chirp, and it appears that Twitter's head of its developer platform, Amir Shevat, is also out, as he tweeted he's "better out than in" and thanked the developer community for the amazing journey they had.

In addition to reducing the number of employees, Musk has also been overhauling Twitter's product at a rapid pace.

Earlier this week, he announced his intention to enact a new version of the Twitter Blue paid subscription, which will cost $8 per month and offer users the verification check mark, fewer ads and the ability to post longer videos. According to a report by The Platformer, Twitter is also planning to shut down its long-form writing product Notes and newsletter product Revue, which was acquired in 2021. Tweets indicate that staff that worked on Twitter Communities were also laid off, suggesting that product may also be shut down.

The new legal complaint is embedded below.

Twitter class action lawsuit over mass layoffs by TechCrunch on Scribd

Read more about Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter on TechCrunch
Read more about Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter on TechCrunch