SF tech company accused of favoring men over women

ByJosephine J. Romero

Jun 11, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Two discrimination lawsuits filed against Zendesk last month claim the San Francisco support-software company perpetuates a culture of sexual harassment and gender bias, favoring men over women in everything from pay and promotions to parental leave, court documents claim. 

The lawsuits filed on May 27 come after a former Zendesk employee’s complaint last year made headlines; she alleged she was told by a supervisor in a video conference that the company would lose over a million dollars because of her choice to have a baby.

Mattern Law Group, an employment law firm based in Manhattan Beach, is representing the plaintiffs in all actions. “Zendesk has shown a consistent pattern of hostility toward female employees,” Matt Matern said in a news release. “It’s time for the company to take these complaints seriously and make some big changes.” 

Founded in Denmark and headquartered in San Francisco, Zendesk has about 5,800 employees. The company said in a statement to SFGATE that it does not comment on pending litigation.

One of the new lawsuits, which seeks class action status, was filed on behalf of four women claiming the company discriminates against women by systematically failing to pay them equally to men, court documents filed with the Superior Court of California in San Francisco said. Three of the women are former employees, identified by the pseudonyms “Jane Does,” who said they were forced to quit their jobs due to discrimination and harassment. The fourth woman is a current employee identified as “Jane Roe”; she has worked at the company since 2014.

The women said the company’s discriminatory practices began when they were hired with lower compensation and less lucrative assignments than their male counterparts, court documents allege. They said they were also offered less stock and incentive pay opportunities. They alleged the discriminatory practices against women were widespread and Zendesk has “reaped unfair and illegal profits” against female employees. 

In the other new lawsuit, the three former female employees identified as Jane Does added to the claims that Zendesk discriminated against women. Jane Doe 1, who worked for the company from June 2019 to January 2021, said the stress and anxiety of the job caused her to develop a stomach abscess that required emergency surgery in August 2020. The doctor told Doe 1 that she could have gone into multiple organ system failure and developed septic shock if he didn’t remove the abscess. He suspected the cause of illness was a weakened immune system due work stress and advised her to take a break to heal, the suit claims.

While on medical leave recovering from surgery, Doe 1 alleged her male supervisor threatened to fire her if she didn’t return to work and continue to make client calls. Doe 1 sent her manager a photo of herself in her hospital bed to communicate the severity of her condition, but she alleged that he continued to harass her and threatened to put her on a performance improvement plan. Doe 1 said she felt that she had no choice but go against her doctor’s advice and return to work.

Jane Doe 2, employed by Zendesk from August 2018 to April 2022, said that when she alerted her male manager of her high-risk pregnancy, she was later denied a promotion to the senior account executive role that would have included a significant pay raise, court documents said. “Instead, the position went to a less experienced male employee who had a shorter tenure with Zendesk,” the suit alleged.

When pregnancy-related issues prevented Doe 2 from finishing a small task on time, her manager said “no excuses,” the documents said. Her manager “continued to constantly single her out and criticize her for minor issues” even though she was a top performer. When Doe 2 took time off for doctor’s appointments, her manager would critique her performance, even though she was doing work on her days off, the suit claimed. 

Jane Doe 3, who worked for the company October 2016 to April 2021, claimed she lost out on a promotion after she took maternity leave, and instead the company elevated a less-qualified man. 

The lawsuit alleged that all three women complained to human resources about the harassing and discriminatory conduct and were met with indifference.


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