Pinterest accused of not paying female ‘co-creator’

The New York Times
San Francisco Written By: Erin Griffith © 2021 The New York Times CompanyUpdated: Sep 14, 2021, 03:07 AM IST

Pinterest Inc. logo (representative image). Photograph:(AFP)

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In a lawsuit, a woman who said she had helped create Pinterest claimed the founders had agreed to compensate her but never did

When Pinterest went public in 2019, Christine Martinez’s friends sent congratulations. She had worked closely with the founders of the digital pinboard in its earliest days, and her friends thought she would get rich alongside them.

But as Pinterest’s stock price rose, turning its founders into billionaires, Martinez realized she would not be compensated or credited for her contributions, she said.

On Monday, she sued.

In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court in California, Martinez accused Ben Silbermann and Paul Sciarra, two of Pinterest’s three co-founders, of breach of implied contract, idea theft, unjust enrichment and unfair business practices. Martinez created Pinterest alongside Silbermann and Sciarra, the lawsuit said, contributing ideas that were “core organizing concepts,” such as organizing images on boards and enabling e-commerce.

Martinez, 40, was never formally employed by Pinterest nor did she ask for a contract. She was not given stock, though she said Pinterest’s founders had verbally agreed to compensate her many times.

Martinez argued that she and the founders had an implied contract, based on their discussions. Pinterest even named a section of its source code after her, according to the complaint.

Pinterest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit renews questions about whether Pinterest, which caters primarily to female users, is hostile to women and minorities in its workplace.

Over the summer, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, two former Pinterest employees, wrote on Twitter about the pay disparities, retaliation and sexist, racist comments they had experienced at the company. Shortly after, Francoise Brougher, Pinterest’s former chief operating officer, sued the company, claiming gender discrimination and retaliation.

In December, the company agreed to a $22.5 million settlement with Brougher, including a $2.5 million donation toward charities for women and underrepresented minorities in tech.

According to the lawsuit, Martinez gave the co-founders the idea of organizing images on “boards,” a core feature of the site; created its call-to-action phrase, “Pin it”; and established its main categories including home décor, fashion and DIY (do-it-yourself). She also helped Silbermann persuade top design and lifestyle bloggers to use Pinterest and promote it. She took him to conferences, gathered feedback from the community and honed the pitch, she said.

Martinez said she realized she would not be compensated only after Pinterest went public in 2019.