A prominent local media executive fired from Yahoo last year has filed a lawsuit accusing CEO Marissa Mayer of leading a campaign to purge male employees.
“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 three-and-a-half 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 said Yahoo couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but she defended the firm’s performance-review process, which she said was guided by “fairness.”
“Our performance review process was developed to allow employees at all levels of the company to receive meaningful, regular, and actionable feedback from others,” Clark said. “We believe this process allows our team to develop and do their best work. 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, former vice-president of news Megan Liberman and former chief marketing officer Kathy Savitt, 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.
Ard, hired at Yahoo in 2011, said in the suit that until Savitt and Liberman took over management of the firm’s media section in early 2014, he had received performance reviews and stock options reflecting “fully satisfactory” work. But in June 2014, Liberman told him that his role as head of editorial programming for Yahoo’s home page was being given to a woman Liberman had recently hired, the suit said.
Then in January 2015, during a performance review phone call, Liberman told Ard he was fired, effective that day, because “his performance was not satisfactory.”
“Liberman stated that she was terminating (Ard) because she had not received a requested breakdown of (his) duties. (Ard) had already provided that very information as requested, however, and reminded Liberman that he had done so,” the lawsuit said. “Liberman’s excuse for terminating (Ard) was a pretext.”
Right after the call, Ard requested a copy of his performance review and said he wanted to appeal his firing, the suit said. “Both requests were denied and (Ard) was ordered to turn in his laptop and depart the premises immediately.”
Ard’s suit also takes aim at the performance-review process he said Mayer imposed. The process allowed high-level managers to arbitrarily change scores of employees they had no contact with, and it “permitted and encouraged discrimination based on gender or any other personal bias held by management.”
Liberman, he said, once “unilaterally lowered” the scores of three men whose performance Ard had evaluated, while she maintained the scores of two women.
Yahoo’s use of this review system to fire many workers individually in a short time period broke the U.S. and California WARN acts, which mandate advance notification of mass layoffs, the suit alleged. “Marissa Mayer became CEO on a wave of optimism and then engaged in a sleight of hand to terminate large numbers of employees without announcing a single layoff,” the suit said.
Yahoo’s diversity reports indicate that the percentage of women in leadership positions at the company rose slightly to 24 percent in 2015 from 23 percent in 2014.