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What employees can learn about rights from an ex-Pinterest manager

Ifeoma Ozoma defied an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to speak up about racial discrimination at Pinterest, a company that supported the Black Lives Matter movement. After quitting, she is working on a legislation that would allow employees to open up despite NDAs.

May 12, 2021 / 01:18 PM IST

The experiences and initiative of a former Pinterest employee, Ifeoma Ozoma, are educative about employee rights in the new world and steps they could take when muzzled by NDAs.

Ozoma, who left Pinterest after alleged harassment, has co-sponsored a Silenced No More Act that would allow some workers to register their grievances despite NDAs.

Ozoma was a public policy manager at Pinterest, the image-sharing app, known as a rare tech company that was nice to work at. However, her experience was not pleasant. She and another Black colleague, Aerica Shimizu Banks, said they faced racism and got paid less than some of their peers. Ozoma also said that when she brought this up with bosses, it backfired on her.

Last year, when Pinterest expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Ozoma could not take the hypocrisy anymore. She and Banks both quit around June 2020. And soon Ozoma posted about her experience on Twitter.

“I knew I might be sued into bankruptcy, but I cared more about setting the record straight on the hypocrisy of it,” Ozoma told The Guardian.

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Banks, who is not involved in the Silenced No More legislation but supports it, said, “I could not stand by and let a company get away with posting ‘Black Lives Matter’ when they did not act like black lives mattered in the negotiations they had just concluded with us.”

In a statement, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann said the company “supports the Silenced No More Act, a workplace protection Bill that encourages transparency and expands protections for employees who speak out about their experiences with workplace discrimination. We want every employee to feel safe, championed and empowered to raise any concerns about their work experience.”

However, when Ozoma had emailed Silbermann about her troubles, he did not follow up after an initial assurance of taking up the matter.

Speaking about the objective of the Bill, Ozoma said, “Coming forward should not be as painful, and should not carry as much risk for someone, as it currently does. This Bill is meant to change that.”

She added, “This is not a replacement for federal action. But in a situation like we have, where it’s really hard to get laws passed at the federal level, we can introduce change in the form of a shareholder resolution so a company decides to adopt it before they’re forced to by legislation.”

The Omidyar Network foundation has funded a related mission of Ozoma’s, a guide for potential whistleblowers on navigating legal, media and security aspects.

“People should not have to rely on whisper networks for justice,” Ozoma said. “You shouldn’t have to know people in order to have information on how to take these steps.”
Akshay Sawai
first published: May 12, 2021 12:04 pm

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