Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer led illegal purge of male employees, lawsuit charges


Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer led illegal purge of male employees, lawsuit charges
PUBLISHED: October 6, 2016 at 2:33 pm | UPDATED: October 7, 2016 at 3:06 pm

A prominent local media executive fired from Yahoo last year has filed a lawsuit accusing CEO Marissa Mayer of leading a campaign to purge male employees.

“Mayer encouraged and fostered the use of (an employee performance-rating system) to accommodate management’s subjective biases and personal opinions, to the detriment of Yahoo’s male employees,” said the suit by Scott Ard filed this week in federal district court in San Jose.

Ard, who worked for Yahoo for 3 ½ years until January 2015, is now editor-in-chief of the Silicon Valley Business Journal. His lawsuit also claims that Yahoo illegally fired large numbers of workers ousted under a performance-rating system imposed by Mayer. That allegation was not tied to gender.

Yahoo’s use of this review system to fire many workers individually in a short time period broke the U.S. and California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) acts, which mandate advance notification of mass layoffs, the suit alleged.

While I do have a friend (not a close one) who was at Yahoo! (Y!) when some of the large-scale firings were happening, I don’t have a horse in this race. The firings were real, and were on a scale that my friend’s work group was left with no chain of supervisors or managers between his group and the COO or even CEO. They didn’t know to whom they reported.

Speaking more generally, when Mayer came in Y! had serious problems. They had been the most successful early search engine, but somehow had gotten out-performed and out-visioned by Google. In the previous 5 or 10 years, Mayer’s predecessors had failed to reverse Y!'s fortunes.

Soon after Mayer came aboard, Y! did something it had never done before. Like many Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) software companies, Y! allowed employees whose jobs could be performed remotely to work at home. Nothing unusual in that, but the “new” thing Y! was to verify whether Y!'s supposed telecommuters actually did any work from home. What they found was that a large number of supposed telecommuters had not even logged onto Y!'s computers on days they claimed they worked at home. I didn’t follow this story to see what Y! manglement in response, but I would expect that many/most of those who defrauded Y! got canned. Because of how their fraud was discovered, the cannings were probably as close to being at the same time as Y!'s HR could process them out.

Like I said, I don’t have a horse in this race (lawsuit). I think it will be interesting to see what facts come out, whether Ard’s claims are proven true. Equally interesting will be how Mayer and Y! defend themselves. Will they present contradicting facts? Will they try to re-spin what they did into acts of “Social Justice”? Will Mayer and Y! try to smear Ard? Will Mayer, et al, play the Gender Card? I think these are all realistic possibilities. IF Ard proves his case, will the federal court actually apply the law to a PC defendant? And, IF Y! loses, in the inevitable appeals will federal appellate courts apply the law to a PC defendant? I think these questions are also reasonable.


Yes this will be a very interesting case to watch. My feeling are that in general our court system is slanted toward females. I also feel that they are a bit slanted against big companies. I guess what it really will come down to is who has the best lawyers though.


> He also said the calibration process was full of personal bias, pointing to a vice president’s alleged comment during calibration that one individual should be rated lower because “He just annoys me. I don’t want to be around him.”
Lol. Yeah, that’s how things work.

> In addition, Anderson noted that when the female vice president of editorial began working at Yahoo, less than 20 percent of the top managers in the media division were female. Three years later, more than 80 percent of the top managers were female. And of the approximately 16 senior-level editorial employees hired or promoted by her in an 18-month period, 14 of them were women.
> Women with the same rating as men were treated better than their male counterparts, he further alleged. One woman who received the same “occasionally misses” score as a male colleague wasn’t fired. He was, and she took his job. She was allowed to appeal her rating, but he was not, Anderson alleged.
He may have a strong enough case. Those numbers are too skewed to be reasonably possible by pure chance.


Re the statistical shift, I’ll cautiously agree with you, for two reasons: 1.) it’s a very significant shift; 2.) and for longer than I’ve been in electronics - on the analog hardware side - women have been very much in the minority (and not because of fart jokes, crude sexual talk, or quid pro quo or “hostile environment” harassment - that I’ve observed). IOW, that magnitude of shift in that short of a time span in an industry where women are very much in the minority is almost certainly design, not coincidence.

That said, statistical imbalances should be viewed very cautiously, for sampling bias, company history, and industry context. Companies tend to be started by friends/acquaintances - Y!‘s founders were friends while at Stanford - and many more senior engineers and manglers will be drawn from student, friend, and coworker networks. Further, many tech companies are relatively young: Y! was incorporated just 21 years ago; my employer, a $2B/year tech company, was founded 23 years ago; Cisco Systems was founded 32 years ago. Compare those ages to companies like GM, Ford, or even Texas Instruments, that have been around long enough for employment searches to have grown beyond founders’ and early employees’ professional networks. As to industry context, electronics and tech, for whatever reasons, have some very identifiable demographics: as mentioned above, women are in the minority (FWIW, most women I’ve met in tech are of East or South Asian heritage); there are few blacks in tech; there are few Hispanics in tech; there are lots of “whites”, East Asians, and South Asians. Thus, for example, Jesse Jackson’s race-baiting about the rarity of blacks in senior management at tech companies should be taken with a huge block of salt (even ignoring the source of the complaints).