Legal counterattack from Twitter alumni could cost Elon Musk dearly

The purge that Elon Musk began at Twitter in early November left more than half of the employees on the floor, many of whom are now suing, a process that promises to be long and potentially expensive for the entrepreneur.

Impossible to know how many people still work at Twitter, the Californian company has in advance more press services.

But “about 50%” of the 7,500 employees were laid off on Nov. 3, according to an internal message. “All those who lost their jobs were offered three months of compensation,” Elon Musk tweeted the next day.

Five recently fired Twitter employees immediately filed a class action lawsuit against the company.

They advanced two main reasons. On the one hand, breach of an agreement made before the takeover of the social network by Tesla’s boss.

Last summer, the former management of Twitter had promised the employees that in the event of a social plan they would obtain some financial compensation.

The goal was to “lower departures,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, the plaintiffs’ attorney. Around 700 employees resigned even before they were sure that the multi-billionaire would actually take control of the platform.

“Then Musk came along and threw that promise out the window,” says the lawyer.

The second reason relates to the 60-day notice period required by US law in the event of mass redundancies (Warn Act), which was not respected for some employees.

“Twitter claims they were fired for professional misconduct when in our opinion they are part of the social plan,” continues Shannon Liss-Riordan.

– Offices-dormitories –
The lawyer is also accompanying two other class actions, one on behalf of employees of a subcontractor, the other for discrimination.

Two weeks after the layoffs, Elon Musk issued an ultimatum: work “fully, unconditionally” in the office or walk out. However, telecommuting is the only option for some employees with disabilities.

The San Francisco company is also the target of an investigation into the conversion of certain offices at the headquarters into bedrooms for employees who sleep there, according to KQED News, a local radio station.

The legal path taken by the five former employees of the social network is tenuous because “most Twitter employees are bound by an arbitration clause,” which means they can only seek redress in an arbitration court.

Once the contract is signed, this clause prevents the employee from resorting to common law.

The platform asked San Francisco federal judge James Donato to dismiss the five former bluebirds’ claims and force them to go through individual arbitration.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to collectively rule on Twitter’s possible violations of the law before referring them to arbitration.

“If the court chooses arbitration, we are prepared to file hundreds, if not thousands, of individual claims to ensure that employees get their due,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan.

– “Mass Arbitration Cases” –
On Monday, California attorney Lisa Bloom said at a press conference that she would seek arbitration for several of her former social networking clients.

“And we will continue to make these demands, one by one, and bombard Twitter,” she said.

“Generally, arbitration clauses are seen as favorable to the employer and a means of reducing costs,” explains Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law.

“But since arbitration puts that cost on Twitter, it creates an opportunity to dramatically increase the bill in the event of mass arbitration,” he argues.

“This puts Twitter in a worse position than if it had not requested arbitration,” the academic insists.

In case of resistance from the social network, the risk share of individual procedures “could take years”, he warns.

“The collective aspect creates an incentive for the employer to find an amicable agreement” globally, argues Risa Lieberwitz, a professor of labor law at Cornell University, “instead of reviewing each arbitration request individually.”

Eric Goldman recalls that Twitter is already in a bad financial situation, burdened with 13 billion in debt at the time of the acquisition and deprived of a significant part of its revenue by the withdrawal of many advertisers.

Elon Musk “thinks he’s above the law, that he can do whatever he wants,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, who also defends former Tesla employees.

But “we have laws in this country that protect employees. And even the richest man in the world can’t ignore the law.”

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