An attorney who says she represents approximately one-third of all Twitter employees that were fired since Elon Musk bought the company late last year, told a federal court in a new filing that the company is not serious in its attempts to resolve worker disputes through private arbitration and is asking the court to halt that process.
Those workers say they are actually owed far more than what the new CEO has offered them, given what Twitter, as a corporation, had already agreed to pay prior to the Musk acquisition. That severance package was also to include bonuses, stock vesting and other benefits that could total tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per employee.
In this case, Rodriguez v. Twitter, the company previously asked the federal judge last month to move the entire procedure to arbitration, citing existing agreements between the company and its then-employees. The attorney, Shannon Liss-Riordan, told Forbes that as of Thursday evening, she and her firm have filed over 1,200 arbitration claims on behalf of former Twitter employees.
But, in a related case, known as Cornet v. Twitter, where the very same judge already ruled in Twitter’s favor – allowing arbitration to go ahead – Liss-Riordan also says that the company has been delaying the arbitration process unnecessarily. She now argues that because of these slowdowns, the other case, Rodriguez, should proceed in court instead of arbitration.
Twitter, which has disbanded its public relations team since the Musk takeover, did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment made to Musk directly or to one of its attorneys, Eric Meckley.
In her 34-page filing, Liss-Riordan outlined three specific ways that she says Twitter is dragging its feet on arbitration.
First, she wrote, Twitter is demanding that claimants must produce signed arbitration agreements, which the company should already have anyway (after all, they’re the basis for why Twitter asked to move the lawsuit out of the courts in the first place). Second, the company is refusing to pay its share of filing fees to the arbitration company. And finally, in cases where the arbitration agreement does not specify a particular arbitration firm, Twitter will not agree on selecting an arbitrator, simply ignoring her emails to Twitter’s own lawyers.
Taken together, Liss-Riordan concludes, “it is clear that Twitter’s request to move to arbitration is simply a ruse to try to avoid these claims altogether,” and the company “should not be permitted to use arbitration as a game-playing device to avoid facing these serious claims.”
Legal experts say that Twitter’s actions appear to be unusual, at best–and may be a sign that Twitter wants to move the case back to a judge to avoid escalating legal fees.
“This kind of foot dragging on the part of employers indicates to me that not only [does Twitter] want a system that is basically controlled by them and then they don’t want adjudication anyplace,” said William Gould, a law professor at Stanford University, and the author of For Labor to Build Upon, a book about organized labor.
Michael LeRoy, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law told Forbes in an email that in his 30 years of studying arbitration, he had “never read or heard” of an instance in which a company that wants arbitration is asking the opposing party to produce the agreement.
“If Twitter is arguing that the worker needs to have a signed contract, the burden is on Twitter to produce the worker’s signature – or face the possibility that the agreement is void or voidable,” he wrote.
Similarly, Amy Schmitz, a law professor at Ohio State University, agreed, telling Forbes that it was “odd” and “illogical” for a company to make ex-employees produce their own arbitration agreements.
Schmitz wondered if Twitter was trying to go back on its own arbitration agreements, simply as a way to avoid what could be massive costs that it would have to pay to an arbitrator in hourly fees, which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per hour alone. (Twitter’s advertising revenue is reportedly down 40%, even as Musk claims the company is “trending to break even.”)
Put another way, if all 1,200 arbitration cases went forward, it could cost Twitter an estimated total of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in arbitration and legal fees, regardless of whether the social media giant prevails.
By comparison, Schmitz noted, “you don’t pay a judge by the hour.”
Twitter is facing a recent lawsuit from a group of former employees that allege the social media platform treated them unfairly when it came to the installation of a new arbitration system. The lawsuit alleges that Twitter is deliberately not cooperating with arbitration proceedings in an effort to keep the court case going.
The legal complaint against Twitter was filed by three high-profile former employees. The plaintiffs claim that Twitter was in violation of the Employment Agreement that they had signed when they joined the company. They allege that Twitter made changes to the arbitration process without informing them, thus limiting their right to pursue legal recourse against the company. The lawsuit further claims that Twitter has not cooperated with the arbitration proceedings, making it impossible for the plaintiffs to have their grievances heard in a timely or impartial manner.
The lawsuit states that Twitter has acted in bad faith, seeking to avoid its legal obligations by preventing the plaintiffs from seeking a resolution through arbitration. The complaint further alleges that Twitter is making use of tactics to delay the case and prevent the plaintiffs from getting a fair hearing.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to rule in their favor and award them damages for the alleged unfair treatment. They are also asking for an order to force Twitter to cooperate with the arbitration process, in accordance with the Employment Agreement.
The case against Twitter takes on added significance in light of the increasing number of companies replacing mediation and arbitration with court proceedings. The lawsuit could potentially set an important precedent for how companies handle disputes with employees in the future. Twitter has yet to respond to the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs are requesting that the case remains in court in the hopes of obtaining a fair ruling.