In the wake of Elon Musk’s mass layoffs at Twitter, a federal judge has ordered the tech company to tell all terminated employees about a class-action lawsuit against the social media giant before asking them to sign away their rights to sue.
In early November, shortly after his controversial takeover of the company, Musk began laying off huge swaths of the Twitter workforce. The cuts were announced in a company-wide email, and some employees reportedly found that they were locked out of the system before being officially advised that they had been terminated.
Emmanuel Cornet, Justine De Caires, Grae Kindel, Alexis Camacho, and Jessica Pan filed their class-action lawsuit soon thereafter, alleging that Twitter violated both federal and state law that requires employers to provide at least 60 days’ notice before “plant closings” or “mass layoffs.” The lawsuit demanded that all employees subject to layoffs be told about the lawsuit before being offered severance agreements that include a release of claims against the company.
Following the filing of the complaint, Twitter had agreed not to seek releases of claims in connection with severance agreements pending the outcome of the protective order request.
In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled that “a succinct and plainly worded notice of this case is warranted” in severance agreements offered to terminated employees that include a release of legal claims.
“This is a textbook scenario for providing notice of a pending class action lawsuit,” Donato said in his order. There is no question that Twitter has the right to communicate with its employees in the normal course of the workplace relationship, including communications about severance and releases. But the communications should not be rendered misleading by omitting material information about a pending lawsuit. That is information an employee should know before deciding to accept a severance package that contains a general release.”
Donato, a Barack Obama appointee, found Twitter’s argument unconvincing. The company had argued that that notice of the lawsuit was unnecessary because employment agreements include arbitration and class action waiver clauses.
“The point is not well taken,” the judge wrote. “Obtaining a release of claims without notice of the litigation would be prejudicial to employees, irrespective of whether the claims are ultimately heard in this Court or in an arbitration.”
Donato said that advising employees about the litigation will prevent future legal fights over the validity of a release of claims “made by an employee who was not aware of all the material facts.”
He also implied that Twitter essentially failed to meet any legal standard that would have supported its argument, leaving him with no other choice but to grant the plaintiffs’ request.
“Despite ample opportunity in the written briefing and during oral argument, Twitter did not present a good reason to reach a different conclusion,” the order said. “It also did not demonstrate that providing notice of the case would impose an undue or unreasonable burden on it, or prejudice it in any way.”
Donato ordered Twitter “to provide notice of the pendency of this case before asking an employee to release his or her legal claims,” and told the parties to submit a proposed form of notice by Dec. 19.
“The notice should be written in neutral and objective terms that a typical employee would understand,” the judge added.
Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who represents Cornet and the other plaintiffs in this case, called Donato’s ruling a “victory for Twitter employees who for weeks have been abused by Elon Musk.”
“The Court’s ruling that Twitter must notify employees of our legal action is a basic but important step that will provide employees with the opportunity to more fully understand their rights instead of just signing them away, and potentially signing away money they are owed, under pressure from Musk,” Liss-Riordan said in a statement Wednesday.
Lawyers for Twitter did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment regarding the order.
Donato’s ruling doesn’t stop the litigation itself. In response to the complaint, Twitter has filed a motion to compel arbitration and strike the class allegations, which will be considered in January.
Meanwhile, Twitter faces multiple other lawsuits over its mass layoffs that rocked the company when they were first announced in November. At least two former employees say that the layoffs targeted women, citing statistics showing that a greater percentage of women than men were terminated. In a separate lawsuit, Twitter employees allege that the layoffs targeted workers with disabilities by implementing a full-time return-to-office policy, as well as employees who were either on, or about to take, family or medical leave.
Read Donato’s order here.
[Photo of Elon Musk entering Twitter HQ via Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP via Getty Images. Image of Twitter HQ via Justin Sullivan, Getty Images.]
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