She was weeks away from maternity leave at Twitter. Then Elon Musk took over - Social Media Explorer
She was weeks away from maternity leave at Twitter. Then Elon Musk took over
She was weeks away from maternity leave at Twitter. Then Elon Musk took over

New York

Bim Ali became pregnant early during her first child when Elon Musk, a billionaire, agreed to purchase Twitter. She worked on Redbird’s core technology team as an engineer. Ali stayed with Twitter through months of uncertainty, trying to ignore the flood of news and focus instead on her baby’s health.

“I was really happy, I loved my team, I loved contributing,” Ali said. “I was also pregnant, so [leaving] didn’t even make sense on any level” because that maternity leave might not be guaranteed as a new hire at a different company, she said.

However, Ali was fired in November shortly after Musk’s acquisition, and just weeks before she began her five-month maternity leaves.

January 4 marked Ali’s official separation date from Twitter, leaving her without health insurance, which her job had provided for her family. The baby was delivered a week later. She is now spending her time with her baby, two months after she gave birth.

“But I’m not being financially supported like I had planned,” she said. “We have to make some way of staying afloat.”

Ali is just one of many current or former employees of Twitter whose lives were disrupted by Musk’s purchase of shares in the company. Twitter employees endured a corporate circus unlike any other, complete with Musk’s threats to bail on the deal, his public clashes with Twitter executives, the potential for a high-profile trial between Twitter and the Tesla CEO, and finally the deal’s completion immediately followed by rumors of imminent mass layoffs.

Musk bought Twitter and cut half the staff. Then, he laid off more people while repeatedly warning of a possible Twitter bankruptcy. After more reductions late last month, Twitter reported that it now has less than 2000 employees, a decrease of around 7,500 since Musk’s takeover.

Former workers who spoke with SME said the past year has felt like whiplash: they went from working for a company whose culture they loved with a corporate mission they believed in, to hunting for a new job and worrying about the platform’s future under Musk’s leadership as he restored incendiary accounts and alienated advertisers. One former employee told SME following December layoffs that they felt like they were grieving what had been their “dream job.”

Numerous workers now find themselves reeling from generous severance package offers that they claim were promised, but which never came through. While some have quickly found jobs, others have struggled with a tech job market that’s at its bleakest point in recent memory. Former employees have told SME about the legal cases filed against them.

“I wasn’t a software engineer or an executive,” said Michele Armstrong, a former senior audio video engineer, who was laid off seven months after joining the company. “I made a decent wage in San Francisco, but if I don’t find another job, I will have to move out of my apartment because I was paid just enough to live in San Francisco … but I wasn’t one of the people that could sock away a bunch of money.”

Armstrong says she’s now searching for work in the challenging tech job market and dipping into her retirement savings to help pay her rent.

A view of Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco, California, on February 8.

Armstrong and Ali are two of the 1,500 employees that have taken legal action. Ex-Twitter employees have filed arbitration demands and four class action lawsuits against Twitter in pursuit of additional severance they allege they were promised by the company prior to Musk’s takeover. Some ex-workers also allege sex, disability discrimination or other issues. However, the company has not proven that these allegations are valid.

“One person can impact our way of living, and unfortunately, we’re seeing the negative impacts of that from how Twitter is being run,” Ali said.

Twitter has asked to dismiss all four class action lawsuits. The company claimed its layoffs had been legal and employees could pursue their claims through arbitration. A judge ruled last month in the company’s favor that at least some workers could not pursue their claims through a class action suit and must instead proceed through arbitration.

Twitter did not make any comment on arbitration, but Shannon LissRiordan filed last month a lawsuit accusing Twitter’s failure to cooperate with arbitration. Twitter laid off a large portion of its media relations staff last year. They did not respond when we asked for comments.

Armstrong was in onboarding sessions for a new job at Twitter, which she called her “unicorn company,” the day news broke that Musk had agreed to buy the company. “It was very welcoming,” Armstrong said of the company. “I was respected, and I hadn’t had that anywhere else working in tech.”

But in the months after Musk’s April offer to buy Twitter, employees witnessed near-daily news coverage of their employer and a wide range of questions about the takeover, from uncertainty over the billionaire’s financing to concerns about his “free speech” vision for the platform.

Michele Armstrong, a former senior audio video engineer, was laid off seven months after joining Twitter. Armstrong says she's now searching for work and dipping into her retirement savings to help pay her rent.

“We were on the Twitter-coaster, the Elon Musk chapter, for seven months,” Ali said. “And during that time, he was in, he was out, it was happening, it wasn’t happening, we could’ve been purchased by some other rogue faction, there were so many rumors, so many opinions.”

Of the many rumors that swirled about Musk’s plans for Twitter, former employees say the biggest question internally was whether Musk would conduct layoffs following his takeover.

But former employees say they got some reassurance after a June meeting in which Musk responded to a question about layoffs by telling Twitter workers that “anyone who’s obviously a significant contributor should have nothing to worry about.”

“I thought, well then, I don’t have anything to worry about because I’m a significant contributor,” Armstrong said, who added that she had previously considered starting to look for another job but “then he said that and it kind of changed my mind.”

Like Ali, some employees said that even if they’d wanted to leave, it simply didn’t feel like an option for personal reasons. Other workers were open to the idea of working for Musk, one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs, despite his reputation as a controversial figure on Twitter and the uncertainty around his plans for the platform.

“Twitter has definitely never been a perfect company … and so I kind of welcome that not necessarily contrarian, but definitely different, approach,” said Justine de Caires, a former senior software engineer who was the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed against Twitter shortly after the November mass layoffs and who is now pursuing arbitration claims against the company. “I think we definitely could have had something to learn from Elon.”

Former Twitter employee Justine De Caires walks toward an entrance to a federal courthouse in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. De Caires is one of the former Twitter employees taking legal action against the company following mass layoffs after Musk took over.

According to Twitter, employees claim that they received very little communication from Musk in the first week after his acquisition. De Caires worked for the first week with Musk on Twitter Blue. This subscription service was Musk’s urgent attempt to boost revenue. De Caires claimed that they worked all night to assist with this effort at one time. Armstrong claimed that Armstrong was called to assist in setting up audio-video equipment at a conference area in an office building in which the company was in the process to shut down due to new leadership.

A week after his takeover, Musk laid off around half of Twitter’s staff by email, leaving employees without work — and at least some confused about whether they could seek out new jobs without risking their severance pay — just before the holidays. In the following weeks, Musk continued to push out additional employees, including by asking remaining workers to commit to working “extremely hardcore” or resign.

Musk initially denied reports that he was planning to lay off 75% of Twitter employees to save costs. But, Musk has actually done something very similar over the past four month with different rounds of staff cutting.

In lawsuits and arbitration claims, numerous former Twitter employees have alleged that the company had promised if layoffs did occur following Musk’s takeover, the severance benefits provided would be at least equivalent to what had been offered prior to his acquisition, including two-months base pay, three months accelerated equity vesting, annual bonuses and some continued health insurance coverage.

Instead, Musk’s Twitter offered laid off employees just one month’s severance following layoffs, beyond pay during the notice period that’s required by state and federal laws. That’s far less than rival companies like Meta, which laid off thousands of workers around the same time as the first cuts under Musk and guaranteed them 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks for each year they worked at the company. The severance offers were sent to at least some employees by email, according public tweets from former employees that spoke to SME.

Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan is representing around 1,500 former Twitter employees taking legal action against the company following Musk's takeover.

“I had lots of Twitter employees reaching out to me and saying they relied on” the company’s earlier severance promise, Liss-Riordan told SME. “They were nervous during all that uncertain time last year when it wasn’t clear what was going to happen with the company, and leadership at Twitter didn’t want to lose their workforce in the meantime, so to keep people there, they made these promises.”

Some former employees say the company’s severance promises had encouraged them to stay at the company last summer amid the uncertainty around Musk’s acquisition, only to regret that as the tech industry entered its most severe downturn in recent memory later in the year.

“It would have been really good to have spent the time in the substantially better tech market while it still existed,” de Caires said. “The market is hot garbage right now. I was sitting down earlier this week after a wave of rejections and I was kind of like, maybe I should go be a firefighter or something… because the tech jobs are just not happening.”

De Caires stated that approximately half their compensation was made up of equity vesting. So, losing this portion of their severance package would have meant that they were missing out on large sums of money. The workers and others are seeking to recover the alleged losses by filing arbitration claims.

“A lot of us put in a lot of effort because we love the company and we love to excel,” Ali told SME. “I think there were a lot of excellent workers at Twitter … we were part of a global movement to tell everyone what’s happening, how it’s affecting you locally, how it’s affecting you nationwide, how it’s affecting you globally. And I think that we all should be compensated fairly for what we’ve done.”

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Adam is an owner at Nanohydr8. He really loves comedy and satire, and the written word in general.

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