Former Yahoo employee Gregory Anderson filed suit in federal district court in San Jose, Calif. on Monday, alleging that he was unjustly terminated due to gender discrimination and Yahoo’s already controversial employee ranking system.
Mr. Anderson was a Sunnyvale, California, editor for Yahoo’s autos, homes, small business, and travel sites. He was in the midst of completing a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan when he was fired in November, 2014.
The Knight-Wallace Fellowship is prestigious, and awarded to journalists and others in the media industry who have at least five years of experience. Several Pulitzer Prize recipients have spent time at the University of Michigan through the Fellowship.
The former Yahoo employee claims that his supervisors were aware of his plans to participate in the fellowship program and approved. According to Monday’s lawsuit, two of Anderson’s supervisors, both of them female, signed off on his fellowship plans after a “lengthy approval process.”
While in Michigan, Anderson continued his work for Yahoo. He intended to produce a documentary for the company about the toxic effects of leaded gasoline on children.
Although Anderson said that he received high employee ratings before he departed for Michigan, he received news that fall that he was being terminated because his latest employee rankings placed him in the bottom five percent of Yahoo’s employees. Every other employee in that percentile was fired.
In his lawsuit, Anderson accused Yahoo of two things. He believes that during his time at Yahoo, female management employed gender discriminatory tactics that disadvantaged male employees. He also alleges that Yahoo’s employee rating system led to what he calls “illegal mass layoffs” of about 600 employees around the time he was fired.
Anderson alleges that one of the top company officials, chief marketing officer Kathy Savitt, created a system of anti-male discrimination that shifted the percentage of female managers from 20 to 80 percent over her three-year tenure at the company.
"Savitt has publicly expressed support for increasing the number of women in media”, said Jon Parsons, Anderson’s lawyer, “and has intentionally hired and promoted women because of their gender, while terminating, demoting, or laying off male employees because of their gender."
Anderson also alleges that he was a victim of illegal layoffs. Yahoo used its already controversial Quarterly Performance Review (QPR) system to weed out its worst performing employees in mass layoffs.
Under both state and federal laws, employers are required to give employees a 60-day notice of mass layoffs. Mass layoffs are classed as such if fifty or more employees are laid off over a thirty-day span. Yahoo laid off 600 at the time Anderson was fired with no notification.
Although Anderson claims that the QPR system is arbitrary and allows managers to use personal bias to rate employees, Yahoo defended the oft-maligned ranking mechanism, saying, "Our performance review process also allows for high performers to engage in increasingly larger opportunities at our company, as well as for low performers to be transitioned out."
After the story broke, Yahoo revealed that Anderson sent the company a demand letter for $5 million in mid-January.
"They are posturing,” said attorney Parsons, “When you don’t have anything substantive to say about the facts, you try to discredit the plaintiff."
If Anderson wins his lawsuit, Yahoo will have to pay former employees $500 for each day that it failed to notify workers of impending layoffs.
Furthermore, according to a 2014 Women’s Media Center report, men tend to represent about two thirds of newsroom employees. If Anderson’s allegations of anti-male discrimination prove to be true, it will mark a shift in prevailing trends in journalists, at least at one company.
The lawsuit is just another in a series of woes for Yahoo. A recent Glassdoor study found that only 34 percent of the company’s employees are optimistic about their employer’s prospects. CEO Marissa Mayer is due to release a new company strategy Tuesday.