The Woman Who Plans to Make Elon Musk Pay for His Twitter Sins. Take A Look:- Shannon Liss-Riordan has helmed some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. Now she is coming for the chief tweet.
Earlier this year, as Elon Musk looked likely to lose his court battle and be forced to buy Twitter, Justin de Kearse began to panic.
Like others, Dee Keers, a Twitter software engineer for three and a half years, predicted that the Musk acquisition would come with massive layoffs. Unlike many, the 25-year-old closely followed the legal battle between the billionaire and the social media company and read every page of the merger agreement. “I am very easily fascinated and interested in things,” explained DeCaires, who uses they/them pronouns.
Twitter high-ups promised to stick to a generous severance package in the event of a Musk acquisition, de Keers says. But the engineer was skeptical, and he began looking for labor rights attorneys with a history of working with powerful tech companies.
The first email was to Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Massachusetts attorney who filed a lawsuit against Tesla months earlier. The lawyer called back the same day.
“It was kind of like, ‘Okay, let’s wait and see how it goes,'” De Keers recalled of that first conversation. “But when things started happening — oh, she was ready.”
Mass layoffs at Twitter in November — a proverbial Red Wedding that cut staff in half — proved fertile ground for lawsuits. But Liss-Riordan, a labor rights veteran once dubbed “Sledgehammer Shannon,” was perhaps the country’s best-equipped lawyer to handle the case.
The talkative Liss-Riordan, a 53-year-old Boston transplant, has sued tech companies from Uber to DoorDash and won judgments of up to $100 million on behalf of her employees.
She’s also attracted her share of critics: Opponents of her unsuccessful bid for Massachusetts attorney general point to the millions she earned from her signature class-action suit, suggesting she’s more interested in money than the movement. Used to keep – allegations she vehemently denies.
Today, attorneys filed four lawsuits on behalf of laid-off Twitter employees alleging violations ranging from disability discrimination to Title VII violations.
He says he plans to convince the multibillionaire that paying off the sacked employees will be easier than fighting them all in court.
He told The Daily Beast, “I find it worrying when the richest man in the world — well, now the richest man in the world — thinks he can do whatever he wants and is above the law.”
“There needs to be a real deterrent to make sure corporations [and] employers protect the rights of their employees and don’t think they can get away with it,” she said. “It’s really important that we have teeth in our laws so that this isn’t like a traffic ticket for the richest man in the world.”
Before she was battling the giants of Silicon Valley, Liss-Riordan was advocating for waiters, bartenders, and bellhops in Massachusetts. An ambitious 29-year-old fresh out of Harvard Law School and a federal clerkship in Texas, Liss-Riordan joined a small firm in Boston, hoping to “hang out the shingle”, according to Harold Lichten, who wrote her Had an interview.
For work. “I thought it was just amazing confidence,” Lichten recalled of their interview, which Lees-Riordan conducted from their honeymoon in Thailand. “Because you just don’t hang a shingle in Boston.”
Liss-Riordan became the firm’s resident expert in securing lost wages for tipped employees, using an obscure state law that prevented managers from dipping into the tip pool.
In 2006, she secured an estimated $2.5 million in damages for wait staff at Hilltop Steakhouse in Saugus; Two years later, he asked American Airlines to pay nine local Skycaps more than $325,000 in lost tips. (It was the Skycaps who dubbed him “Sledgehammer Shannon”.)
Between 2001 and 2008, according to a Boston Globe analysis, she brought at least 40 lawsuits on behalf of tipped employees; In 2012, it won a $14.1 million settlement for Starbucks baristas. He is estimated to have won over half a billion dollars for workers during his career.
At the same time, Liss-Riordan became interested in workers who she felt were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees.
Companies often use contractors to fill gaps in their full-time labor force, but Liss-Riordan realized that many were using them excessively to avoid paying for benefits such as health care and overtime.
Over two years, Liss-Riordan filed lawsuits on behalf of FedEx drivers, janitors, and even strippers who felt they had been cheated out of employee status. Then he encountered his white whale: Uber.
Liss-Riordan negotiated with the company through drivers who felt it was taking their tips, but she immediately took issue with Uber’s entire business model — namely, creating an entire workforce of independent contractors.
Shortly after filing the tip case for drivers, it filed a class-action suit aimed at the company’s Center—and several other “gig economy” platforms—arguing that its drivers were classified as employees. should be done, not as contractors.
At the height of the litigation, the class included 400,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts alone. It quickly followed suit and won some sizable settlements against other gig economy standouts—Lyft, DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, and Instacart.
In 2019, she won $11 million for Instacart drivers who were not reimbursed for using their vehicles; Last year alone, they made $100 million for DoorDash employees.
But fighting the giants of the gig economy proved more difficult than taking back tips for baristas. Drivers for Lyft and Uber are classified as independent contractors and the underlying business model remains untouched.
And because of the agreements, many workers signed with their recruits, their cases against both companies were ultimately stripped of their class-action status and forced into private arbitration—a much more expensive, time-consuming, and ultimately less efficient process.
When it finally won a $20 million settlement on behalf of Uber drivers, it was on behalf of about 13,500 drivers.
At the same time, the high-profile nature of his work began to attract critics. In 2016, after three years of fighting the case, Liss-Riordan believed it had secured a $100 million deal with Uber on behalf of millions of drivers.
But as is sometimes the case in large class actions, some drivers hired other lawyers to oppose the settlement, claiming it was not large enough.
The original lead plaintiff in the case, Douglas O’Connor, filed a motion opposing it, calling the settlement “disastrous” and claiming that drivers were “sold out and shortchanged for billions of dollars.”
In an interview with NPR on the subject, Uber driver Adam Shaheen said: “Attorney Shannon does not work for our side at all. We reject [that] she represents us.”
Liss-Riordan dismissed this response as a job risk, stressing that other lawyers often jump at the opportunity to contest hard-won settlements in hopes of grabbing a piece of the prize. Huh.
She claims only 30 out of 400,000 drivers ever complained about the deal. But after protests from the drivers, the judge in the case rejected the Liss-Riordan settlement, claiming it represented only 0.1 percent of a potential final verdict in the case.
Liss-Riordan offered to reduce his fee by $10 million in hopes of saving the deal, to no avail. That same year, a judge in her case against Lyft also rejected her proposed settlement.
“I wonder if you are now in a position to explain whether the $12 million settlement, 30 percent of which you propose going to the lawyers, is a fair settlement, given the true maximum value of the lawsuit, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $170 million,” U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said at the time. (Liss-Riordan eventually persuaded Lyft to settle for more than double the original amount.)
Earlier this year, during her run for Massachusetts attorney general, Liss-Riordan’s rivals repeated these criticisms, portraying her as a wealthy, out-of-touch attorney who preyed on her working-class clients.
Prioritize your earnings. Liss-Riordan, who lives in a five-bedroom, $4 million-plus home and has donated $9.3 million of her own money to her campaign, “can never be accountable to the people,” rival Andrea Campbell said at the time.
Just before the state primaries, The Boston Globe ran an article with the headline: “Shannon Liss-Riordan Won Millions for Workers. But Did She Take Too Much for Herself in the Process?”
It’s a question that troubles those who know Liss-Riordan. “They criticized him for being money and it appeared he didn’t make money,” said Steve Tolman, a railroad union representative for 20 years who now runs the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and who has written a list- Riordan worked with Driver Issues. “There was a campaign against Shannon … and I think it was essentially because she’s such a tough fighter.”
Liss-Riordan doesn’t shy away from the topic of her own money—”I’ve done well in my fight against corporate America on behalf of workers,” she says—but says her fees are industry standard and none of her settlements Never reversed because his rate was too high.
She said that the millions she spent on her campaign were meant to boost her name recognition, and argued that it was better than taking corporate money.
Nicole Moore, president of Rideshare Drivers United, a lobbying group that advocates for drivers’ interests in California, said it’s hard for her to get excited about lawyers like Liss-Riordan, who take a quarter of their constituents’ settlement checks. . their affairs.
His group would prefer to work through the labor commission or the state attorney general’s office, which he said would fight for their rights without taking “a billion dollars.”
Still, Moore said, “There are a lot of lawyers out there — even Obama administration lawyers — who are on the wrong side of this stuff, working for Lyft and Uber.”
Moore said, “[Liss-Riordan] was one of those who came out early and said we’re going to fight for the drivers, not the companies.” “If people are arguing that we should get the full protection of labor law, I agree with it.”
Liss-Riordan’s first conflict with Elon Musk was not with Twitter, but with Tesla. When the electric vehicle company laid off 10 percent of its workforce without written warning earlier this year — a violation of the federal WARN Act, Liss-Riordan argues — she filed suit on behalf of two terminated workers, the class- Action status sought.
Shortly thereafter, by a protective resolution, Tesla offered a two-week severance package to anyone who would sign away their rights to sue.
Liss-Riordan convinced the court to ask Tesla to notify anyone who signed the lawsuit’s severance package, but the case came down a familiar roadblock: agreements made by employees when they first joined Tesla. Because of this, a judge denied them class-action status and sent them away. The case for individual arbitration.
There was a glimmer of hope in the case: when De Keers went to see lawyers in late October, Liss-Riordan was the first to appear.
“I was like, ‘Well, he’s worked with Elon musk before, maybe this is right up his alley,'” De Keers recalled. “It seemed like I should get in touch with a man with the requisite experience.”
In the days that followed, De Keers kept Liss-Riordan updated on the goings-on on Twitter, and the two brainstormed who would make a good addition to the suite. By November 3, the day before Twitter implemented mass layoffs, Liss-Riordan had signed up enough laid-off employees to complain.
She was planning on filing the next morning—until workers across the country started sending her panicked messages that they’d been locked out of their accounts.
By the time De Keers texted her to say they were off as well, Lis-Riordan was ready. She filed her first lawsuit against Twitter at 1 p.m.
Liss-Riordan’s first lawsuit is similar to the complaint against Tesla that claims Twitter violated the WARN Act by failing to give some employees 60 days’ notice of layoffs and by failing to uphold severance agreements with others. violated. But she didn’t stop there.
Two weeks later, Liss-Riordan filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of contractors hired through third parties. Then he heard from Dmitry Borodenko, an engineering manager and cancer survivor, who says he was laid off after telling his manager he couldn’t return to the office under Elon Musk’s new mandate because he was immunocompromised.
Liss-Riordan quickly filed a lawsuit alleging disability discrimination on behalf of Borodenko and other similarly situated employees, which was later expanded to include anyone laid off during medical or parental leave. was expanded to.
Along the way, Liss-Riordan accessed a spreadsheet detailing which of Twitter’s 7,000 employees had been laid off and asked a statistician to break it down by gender.
The result: 57 percent of women at the company were laid off compared to 47 percent of men—a discrepancy that could have happened by a chance of less than 10 in 100 trillion times, according to the complaint.
Elon Musk’s defenders argue that he made it a priority to preserve engineering jobs, which skew males, but the complaint says the gap persists within the engineering workforce, with 63 percent women compared to 48 percent men.
On December 7, Liss-Riordan filed her fourth lawsuit against Twitter alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title VII.
“I have a family, I have a child to support,” Wren Turkle, one of the plaintiffs, said at the press conference. “All we’re looking for is fairness.”
Twitter is pushing back forcefully, but Liss-Riordan learned a few tricks from her tango with Tesla. Shortly after filing the first lawsuit, she asked a judge to block Twitter from asking terminated employees to sign away their right to sue without informing them of the case.
As in the Tesla case, the judge took his side. Earlier this week, after failing to move the Tesla case to arbitration, Liss-Riordan filed 100 individual arbitration demands in an effort to clear up her hoax.
“If Elon Musk wishes to fight these claims one by one in individual arbitration, we are prepared to fight them one by one, if necessary, on behalf of potentially thousands of employees,” she said in a press release. “We’ve done it before and we’re ready to do it again.”
It was a strategy she pioneered 15 years ago when fighting an early gig economy company that classified its cleaning workers as independent contractors.
“Usually the company is like, ‘Wait, we thought you’d all be gone,'” she said with a smile. “And we’re like, ‘Sorry, you asked for that.’
Liss-Riordan is far from the only lawyer to join the Twitter layoff gold rush. Lisa Bloom, an attorney as well-known for her work on sexual harassment cases as she is for her early support of Harvey Weinstein, entered the field on December 5 with arbitration claims on behalf of three employees.
New York attorney Akiva Cohen threatened a similar arbitration campaign earlier this month. De Keers said there’s a Slack channel filled with hundreds of dismissed Twitter employees debating whether to hire the best lawyers to join or suit up.
But De Keers is satisfied with his choice. The engineer has read everything on the docket for the case, and often asks Liss-Riordan, “I saw this thing on something that Twitter filed, what do you hope is going to happen next?”
“She tells me what she expects, and a few days later, that’s exactly what happens,” de Keers said. “I feel great that I chose Shannon.”
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