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Legal Experts React as Twitter Employees Launch Class Action Suit Amid Elon Musk’s Firing Spree: There’s ‘Legal Analysis and Strategy Behind’ the Layoffs

Elon Musk, wearing a black shirt and black pants, is carrying a large sink and smiling as he enters Twitter's California headquarters. He is passing by a desk in front of a wall bearing Twitter's blue bird icon.

This video grab taken from a video posted on the Twitter account of billionaire Tesla chief Elon Musk on October 26, 2022 shows himself carrying a sink as he enters the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.

A group of five Twitter employees have sued the social media giant over possible pending layoffs, alleging violations of federal and California law and demanding an injunction to stop Twitter from asking terminated employees to agree not to sue the company.

The class action complaint on behalf of Emmanuel Cornet, Justine De Caires, Grae Kindel, Alexis Camacho, and Jessica Pan was filed in San Francisco federal court on Thursday. They Twitter of violating both federal and California versions of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification — or WARN — Acts, which require employers to give 60 days’ notice to employees before “plant closings” or “mass layoffs.”

Media reports Thursday said that widespread layoffs would soon come to the company, just days after tech billionaire Elon Musk’s purchase of the social media behemoth was finalized. The complaint cites multiple media reports that Twitter planned to cut around 50% of its workforce, or some 3,700 employees.

The Washington Post reported that Twitter leadership sent an email to employees on Thursday saying that “a number of individuals” would be laid off on Friday.

“By 9AM PST on Friday Nov. 4th, everyone will receive an individual email with the subject line: Your Role at Twitter,” the letter said, according to the Washington Post. “Please check your email, including your spam folder. If your employment is not impacted, you will receive a notification via your Twitter email. If your employment is impacted, you will receive a notification with next steps via your personal email.”

The letter added that all Twitter offices would be closed and building access would be suspended on Friday in order to “help ensure the safety of each employee.”

Cornet, who worked in San Francisco at the company’s headquarters, was told on Nov. 1, 2022, that “his employment was being terminated effective immediately,” the complaint says, adding that Twitter did not provide “any advance notice at all” about the layoff. Cornet did not receive a severance.

Plaintiffs De Caires and Pan, who were also based in the San Francisco office, and Kindel, who worked out of Twitter’s office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were not formally terminated at the time the complaint was filed, but they were locked out of their company accounts on Nov. 2.

The complaint cites a Texas lawsuit filed by former employees of Tesla, the electric car company also owned by Musk. Those plaintiffs alleged similar WARN Act violations, including an effort by Tesla to obtain “full releases” of all federal and California WARN Act claims “in exchange for small severance payments of one or two weeks pay[.]”

That’s “significantly less” than the 60 days required to satisfy the WARN Act, the Texas lawsuit said. Although that complaint has been dismissed and sent to private arbitration, a federal magistrate judge found that “any separation agreements issued or executed” after the Tesla plaintiffs filed their case “may be misleading because they fail to inform potential class members of this lawsuit and the rights that they are potentially giving up under the WARN Act.”

The Twitter plaintiffs say they need the court’s help to stop Tesla from pulling the same stunt again.

“Plaintiffs here are reasonably concerned that, absent court intervention, Twitter will engage in similar behavior and seek releases from laid off employees without informing them of their rights or the pendency of this case,” the complaint says. “Plaintiffs have therefore brought this complaint seeking immediate relief to ensure that Twitter does not violate the federal and California WARN Act and then seek to obtain releases from employees who do not have notice of their rights or the claims brought here on their behalf.”

The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court and an injunction prohibiting Twitter from “conducting mass layoffs without providing the required notice” and “soliciting the employees it is laying off to sign separation agreements that release their claims” under the WARN Act.

Some employment law experts say that without knowing what was in the emails sent to Twitter employees, it’s unclear whether any WARN Act violations actually occurred.

Rheaana Guess, a Chicago-based employment lawyer who is not affiliated with the Twitter lawsuit, told Law&Crime that the success of the employees’ lawsuit may hinge on the contents of those emails.

“The communication could tell someone they are ‘relieved of duties’ as of the day of that notice, but what’s in the communication is some form of a package,” Guess explained, adding that such employees could be considered “active employees” for 60 days before being officially let go, even if they are denied access to the company and are not doing any work.

“You don’t have to tell someone that they’re going to be fired in 60 days and then make them work,” Guess said. “In fact, that’s a very risky move on the part of an employer.”

Guess explained that WARN laws stem from wanting to protect factory and industrial workers from economic ruin if a plant simply locked its doors and told its workers they were fired.

“It was meant to protect communities,” Guess said.

New York-based attorney Misty Marris, also not affiliated with Twitter complaint, says that the reference to the Tesla lawsuit is particularly notable.

“That is interesting and unique to this case,” Marris told Law&Crime. “In general, there are clauses in severance agreements that give employees time to contemplate the severance agreement and also to assess that they fully read and understand the agreement. So legally, the request to the court to order Twitter to advise them specifically of their rights under the WARN ACT is unusual.”

Marris says that, as in the Tesla case, Twitter may be successful in moving the matter into arbitration, taking it out of the public eye, but notes that it’s not likely that Musk simply ignored the law.

“One thing is for sure, Musk is not acting on a whim,” Marris says. “There is a legal analysis and strategy behind these actions. Whether it will be successful will play out over time. But it’s a certainty that all of the possible outcomes are being analyzed and considered as the takeover of Twitter continues.”

Neither Twitter nor lawyers from the Lichten & Liss-Riordan, the firm representing the plaintiffs, immediately replied to Law&Crime’s request for comment.

You can read the complaint here.

[Image via Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP via Getty Images.]

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