Pinterest accused of not paying a female “co-designer”
SAN FRANCISCO – When Pinterest went public in 2019, friends of Christine Martinez sent their congratulations. She had worked closely with the founders of the digital bulletin board in its early days, and her friends believed she would grow rich alongside them.
But as Pinterest’s stock price rose, turning its founders into billionaires, Ms Martinez realized that she would neither be paid nor credited for her contributions, she said.
On Monday, she filed a complaint.
In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court, Ms Martinez accused Ben Silbermann and Paul Sciarra, two of Pinterest’s three co-founders, of implied breach of contract, theft of ideas, unjust enrichment and unfair trade practices. Ms Martinez created Pinterest alongside Mr Silbermann and Mr Sciarra, the lawsuit said, bringing in ideas that were “basic organizing concepts,” such as organizing pictures on boards and the possibility of electronic commerce.
Ms Martinez, 40, has never been formally employed by Pinterest, nor has she applied for a contract. She did not receive any stock, although she said the founders of Pinterest verbally agreed to compensate her on several occasions.
Ms Martinez argued that she and the founders had an implied contract, based on their discussions. Pinterest even named a section of its source code in his honor, according to the complaint. And she was such a close friend of the co-founders that she brought them both home for Christmas and was a bridesmaid at Mr Silbermann’s wedding.
“I always expected them to do this when they could compensate me,” she said, adding that she had been naïve. “There was never a doubt in my mind.”
Pinterest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit renews the question of whether Pinterest, which primarily targets female users, is hostile to women and minorities in its workplace.
Last summer, Ifeoma Ozoma and Banks Aerica Shimizu, two former Pinterest employees, wrote on Twitter about wage disparities, retaliation and racist and sexist comments they had suffered at the company. Shortly after, Françoise Brougher, former COO of Pinterest, sued the company, alleging gender discrimination and retaliation.
In response, Pinterest employees staged a virtual walkout in August last year, demanding that the company increase the number of women and minorities in its senior ranks and provide more transparency on promotion levels, retention and compensation.
In December, the company agreed to a $ 22.5 million settlement with Ms. Brougher, including a $ 2.5 million donation to charities for women and under-represented minorities in the tech industry. Pinterest shareholders then sued the company and its board for its corporate culture.
Ms. Ozoma helped sponsor the Silenced No More Act in California, which will expand protection for employees who report discrimination or harassment in the workplace. It was recently passed by the state legislature.
Ms Martinez said she wasn’t surprised to see the headlines on Pinterest’s culture and was frustrated by the disconnect between the company’s male founders and its female users.
“I spent a lot of years getting really confused as to how people believe these three men created a product like this for women – that they understood women pretty well,” a- she declared.
Starting in 2008, the year before Pinterest was founded, Mr. Silbermann and Mr. Sciarra sought advice from Ms. Martinez on a wide range of concepts, from her name and features to her marketing strategy and spreadsheet. route produced, according to the lawsuit.
Ms. Martinez had studied interior design, created a lifestyle blog and founded LAMA Designs, an e-commerce start-up. Even though LAMA’s business model was working and showing promise, venture capitalists did not take her seriously and she said she had struggled to raise funds.
Still, Pinterest funding, based on little more than an idea and the credentials of Mr. Silbermann and Mr. Sciarra, came more easily. Ms. Martinez said she was eager to help her friends.
“They had no marketing training or expertise in creating a product for women,” she said. “My role has always been to educate them.
According to the lawsuit, Martinez gave the co-founders the idea of organizing the images into “boards,” a key feature of the site; created their call-to-action phrase, “Pin it up”; and established its main categories including Home Decor, Fashion and DIY. She also helped Mr. Silbermann persuade top design and lifestyle bloggers to use and promote Pinterest. She took him to conferences, gathered feedback from the community and refined the speech for them, she said.
Ms Martinez said she realized she wouldn’t be compensated until after Pinterest published in 2019.
Soon after, she said, a death in the family made her reflect on her life. This encouraged her to talk about Pinterest.
“I couldn’t take this to my grave,” she said.