The tech industry is not known for being a gender-balanced industry, and that issue has been thrown into the spotlight with the most recent Silicon Valley gender discrimination lawsuit aimed at Facebook. Former Facebook employee Chia Hong, who was fired in 2013 after three years at the company, sued the social network for sex and race discrimination.
According to a lawsuit filed in state court at San Mateo County on Monday, Hong claims she was discriminated against and harassed by her boss, Anil Wilson, and faced retaliation — eventually being fired — because of her gender and Taiwanese descent. The lawsuit also includes specifics of Hong being "belittled" at work, reprimanded for visiting her child at school with allocated time off, and ordered to organize events and serve drinks to male colleagues. She alleged that Facebook fired her as a technology partner — in spite of her performance having been evaluated "satisfactory" — only to replace her with a less qualified, less experienced male employee, detailed the lawsuit.
Facebook — whose COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is one of the most vocal advocates of women leaders in the workplace — denied Hong's allegations. A spokeperson said in a statement:
We work extremely hard on issues related to diversity, gender and equality, and we believe we’ve made progress. In this case we have substantive disagreements on the facts, and we believe the record shows the employee was treated fairly.
Representing Hong is Lawless & Lawless, the same firm that has taken up a similar case in Silicon Valley, representing interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao in her transfixing lawsuit against the well-known venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Like Hong, Pao is accusing the VC firm she was fired from as a junior partner of gender discrimination.
Though Hong's lawsuit against Facebook lacks the greater financial stakes and lurid details that Pao's does, it comes amid Facebook's ongoing efforts to improve gender equality at its company that include generous maternity-leave policies and Sandberg's hiring in 2008.
Instead of settling out of court, Pao's lawsuit has gone to trial, putting the issue of workplace discrimination — particularly in wealthy Silicon Valley — right in the public eye. The high profiles of these lawsuits could also encourage other women to go public with their experiences with such issues at the workplace. Just earlier this month, a former Google employee claimed that she was sexually harassed while at the company, then later admonished for speaking up about the incident.
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