Lawsuit: Meta engineer told to resign after calling out sexist hiring practices

Meta got hit Tuesday with a lawsuit alleging that the company knowingly overlooks sexist treatment of female employees. That includes an apparent practice of hiring and promoting less qualified men to roles over more qualified female applicants.

The complaint was filed in a US district court in New York by Jeffrey Smith, an engineer who joined Meta in 2018. Smith alleged that Meta was on the brink of promoting him when suddenly his “upward trajectory stopped” after he started speaking up about allegedly misogynistic management practices at Meta.

Smith claimed that instead of a promotion, his Meta manager, Sacha Arnaud, suggested that he resign shortly after delivering Smith’s first-ever negative performance review, which reduced his bonus payout and impacted his company stock. Smith has alleged he suffered emotional distress and economic injury due to this alleged retaliation.

“Punished almost immediately”

The engineer—whose direct reports consider him to be “pro-active” and “the most thoughtful manager” ever, the complaint noted—started protesting Meta’s treatment of women in the summer of 2023.

For Smith, the tipping point toward advocating for women at Meta came when an “exceedingly capable female Meta employee” had her role downsized during a company reorganization. Some of her former responsibilities were allocated to two male employees, one of which Smith considered “a particularly poor fit,” because the male employee had significantly less experience than the female employee and no experience managing other managers.

After that, Smith learned about a Meta research scientist, Ran Rubin, who allegedly evaluated “a high-performing” female employee’s work “more critically than men’s work.”

Smith said that he repeatedly raised concerns about the perceived sexist management with Meta’s human resources and leadership, but nothing came of it.

Instead of prompting Meta to intervene, Smith was overwhelmed as more women came forward, revealing what he considered “a pattern of neglectful management” at Meta, routinely providing “overly critical feedback” and exhibiting “bias against the women.”  Three women specifically complained about Rubin, who allegedly provided poor management and “advocated for white men to have supervision” over the women whose competence he “denigrated.”

“Rubin’s comments about each of these women was not based on any evidence, and all had significant experience and no complaints against them,” Smith’s complaint said.

As Smith tells it, he couldn’t help but speak up after noticing “a qualified female employee was inexplicably stripped of responsibilities, a male supervisor was hyper-critical of a female direct report, certain male managers exhibited bias towards women they oversaw and that Meta exhibited systematic preferential treatment towards men in promotions and ratings, while failing to provide career development support to women,” his complaint said.

Smith alleged that Meta “punished” him “almost immediately” after he spoke up for these women. Rather than incorporate employee feedback into his performance review, his manager took the “highly unusual” step of skipping a formal review and instead delivering an informal critical review.

Meta accused of “driving women away”

“Smith felt intimidated,” the complaint said, and he stopped reporting alleged mistreatment of women for a short period. But in October 2023, “Smith decided that he could not stay silent any longer,” resuming his criticism of Meta’s allegedly sexist male managers with gusto. Some women had left Meta over the alleged treatment, and once again, he felt he ought to be “voicing his concerns that the actions of Rubin and other managers were driving women away from Meta by treating them unequally.”

Weeks later, Smith received a negative annual performance review, but that didn’t stop him from raising a red flag when he learned that a manager intended to fill a research science manager role “with a junior white man.”

Smith told his manager that “the two most qualified people for the role” were “both women and were not being considered,” Smith’s complaint said. But allegedly, his manager “responded by lashing out” and “questioning whether Smith’s response was ‘productive.'” After that, another employee accused of acting “disrespectfully” toward women “yelled at and insulted Smith,” while everyday workplace activity like taking previously approved time off suddenly seemed to negatively impact his performance review.

Ultimately, “no action was ever taken regarding his complaints about Mr. Rubin or the culture at Meta,” Smith’s complaint said, but his manager suggested that he “search for a new job internally” before later “stating that Smith should consider resigning his role.”

Smith hopes a jury will agree that Meta violated anti-retaliation and anti-interference laws in New York. A victory could result in civil and punitive damages compensating Smith for harm to his “professional and personal reputations and loss of career fulfillment.” It could also block Meta from any further mistreatment of women in the workplace, as alleged in the complaint.

An attorney for Smith, Valdi Licul, provided Ars with a statement, characterizing Smith’s case as “yet another example of how major corporations are failing to address sexist cultures and how they try to silence those who speak out against their practices. We look forward to holding Meta accountable and making it clear that sexism has no place in the workforce.”

Meta did not immediately respond to Ars’ request to comment.

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