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Outgoing Twitter employees prepare for legal campaign against world's richest man

Brian Contreras, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES — For months, as the will-they, won't-they acquisition drama between Elon Musk and Twitter dragged on, Helen-Sage Lee held firm in her belief that the social media company was a workplace worth fighting for.

"We all believed in the product so much that most of us decided to stay to see it through," Lee, who worked on the platform's account integrity team, said of the purchase and the job insecurity it introduced for employees. "And I felt assured in doing so because of the severance that HR and legal promised in May, and again in October."

Yet that assurance was misplaced, Lee now alleges. With the help of Calabasas-based attorney Lisa Bloom, Lee has filed an arbitration claim against Musk — the richest man in the world by some counts — for not following through on financial obligations she contends Twitter's newest chief executive now holds.

It's one of several such legal actions brewing in the wake of the billionaire's chaotic and layoff-intensive tech takeover, which, amid a sector wide downturn, has left many outgoing Twitter staffers scrambling for money, employment and a sense of closure.

On Nov. 3, only days after his purchase closed, Musk made good on rumors of mass layoffs with a companywide email saying that job cuts were coming. That night, Lee anxiously watched as co-workers flooded Twitter's online workplace with saluting emojis and blue hearts.

And then it was Lee's turn to go. Her laptop shut down at 9 p.m., she said, and her company access was revoked: "This was when I felt truly alone."

 

Yet perhaps the toughest blow of all came a day later when, on Nov. 4, the company sent out more details about what the layoffs would look like.

"We received information that the severance package we were expected to receive in the coming week would be far less than what was initially promised to us prior to the acquisition," Lee said during a Monday morning news conference hosted by Bloom, her attorney. "The severance package was a constant in a turbulent time that we relied on, and many of us are ready to take legal action."

"I'm here today because I want to keep Twitter accountable," she added.

Musk has claimed repeatedly that those he laid off will receive three months of severance pay. But the terms of his deal to purchase Twitter obligate him to provide a severance package "no less favorable" than the one promised by its prior leadership, which is the basis for the arbitration claim Lee and Bloom are now bringing forward.

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