SAN FRANCISCO — Pinterest on Monday agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit from Françoise Brougher, its former chief operating officer, in one of the largest publicly announced individual settlements for gender discrimination.
As part of the agreement, Pinterest and Brougher said they planned to jointly donate $2.5 million toward charities that support women and underrepresented minorities in tech with a focus on education, funding and advocacy. The donations are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“I’m glad Pinterest took this very seriously,” Brougher said in an interview. “I’m hoping it’s a first step in creating a better work environment there.”
The agreement may signal a shift in how Silicon Valley handles such suits. In the past, tech companies have typically fought back, such as when the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers disputed a suit brought by one of its former investors, Ellen Pao, in 2012. (Pao lost the case.) Tech companies have also settled such suits in private.
Brougher is among the most prominent female tech executives to file a gender discrimination suit against a former employer. In July, Emily Kramer, a former vice president for marketing at Carta, sued the financial technology startup for discrimination and retaliation. Carta has disputed the claims.
David Lowe, Brougher’s lawyer, said the settlement with Pinterest was notable because of its size, its charitable component and its public announcement. Trial verdicts and private settlements for discrimination cases may be larger than Brougher’s, he said, but trial verdicts can be appealed and settled for lower amounts while private settlements do not hold the companies to account in the same way. The settlement provides partial compensation for Brougher’s lost income, he said.
“My goal was about accountability and driving change,” Brougher said. “Sharing the settlement publicly helps raise awareness more broadly.”
Pinterest, a virtual pinboard company, has been under scrutiny for months about how it handles its employees. In June, two employees who had recently quit, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, publicly discussed their experiences with racist and sexist comments, pay inequities and retaliation at the company. Further reports of cultural issues at Pinterest added fuel to their accounts.
In August, Brougher sued Pinterest for sexist treatment in San Francisco Superior Court. She joined the company in 2018 as chief operating officer and was responsible for the company’s revenue, with roughly half of the 2,000 employees reporting to her.
But even though she was a top executive, Brougher said, she had been left out of important meetings, was given gendered feedback and was paid less than her male peers. She said she was let go in April after she spoke up about the treatment.
Alongside her lawsuit, she published a blog post titled “The Pinterest Paradox: Cupcakes and Toxicity,” outlining her experience. She said the post prompted an outpouring of support and similar stories from other female tech executives.
That week, more than 200 Pinterest employees virtually walked out in support of Brougher, Ozoma and Shimizu Banks and in protest of Pinterest’s culture and policies. Soon after, Pinterest was also hit with shareholder lawsuits.
In response, Pinterest opened an investigation into its culture, the results of which have not been made public. It added two new members to its board of directors, Andrea Wishom and Salaam Coleman Smith, two prominent media executives who are Black and female. Pinterest’s chief financial officer, Todd Morgenfeld, who was called out in Brougher’s lawsuit for discriminatory behavior, remains at the company.
Brougher said she was encouraged by Pinterest’s recent actions to address its culture, including the addition of the two new board members. She said she hoped Pinterest did more than just put them on its board and would “also listen to their ideas.”
She added that discrimination against female executives would be solved only when women “are more the norm than the exception” in executive roles. This year, the number of Fortune 500 companies with female chief executives reached a record high of 37, or 7%.
“I want more women to speak up,” Brougher said, “but more importantly, I want more women in the C-suite.”