Lawsuit alleges Yahoo 'purged' male employees

A former employee has sued Yahoo, alleging that CEO Marissa Mayer designed performance evaluations that were unfair to men, leading to a purge of male employees.

Mercury News:

“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 spokeswoman Carolyn Clark defended the company’s hiring and performance-review processes, which she said are guided by “fairness.”

“This lawsuit has no merit. With the unwavering support of our CEO, we are focused on hiring employees with broad and varied backgrounds, and perspectives,” Clark said. “Our performance-review process was developed to allow employees at all levels of the company to receive meaningful, regular and actionable feedback from others.

“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.”

In addition to Mayer, two other female executives — Kathy Savitt, former chief marketing officer, and Megan Liberman, editor-in-chief of Yahoo News, identified in the lawsuit as Yahoo’s vice president of news at the time — are accused in the lawsuit of discriminating on the basis of gender.

“When Savitt began at Yahoo the top managers reporting to her … including the chief editors of the verticals and magazines, were less than 20 percent female. Within a year and a half those top managers were more than 80 percent female,” the lawsuit said. “Savitt has publicly expressed support for increasing the number of women in media and has intentionally hired and promoted women because of their gender, while terminating, demoting or laying off male employees because of their gender.

“Of the approximately 16 senior-level editorial employees hired or promoted by Savitt … in approximately an 18-month period, 14 of them, or 87 percent, were female,” the lawsuit said.

This sounds like a slam-dunk win for Ard, but using performance rating systems to prove bias will be difficult.  Much will depend on how subjective the court believes the female executives were in their choices of hiring, promoting, and firing male employees.  Numbers alone don't prove anything.  But a pattern of behavior might legally prove bias.

Using one's position in business to advance a cultural agenda would be of great interest to shareholders who might not approve of the idea of using Yahoo as a social laboratory.  Even if the suit is tossed, I imagine that it will be a topic of interest at Yahoo shareholder meetings.

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