Pinterest accused of not paying female 'co-creator'

Ms Christine Martinez accused Pinterest's co-founders, of breach of implied contract, idea theft, unjust enrichment and unfair business practices. PHOTO: NYTIMES

SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES) - When Pinterest went public in 2019, Ms Christine Martinez's friends sent congratulations. She had worked closely with the founders of the digital pinboard in its earliest days, and her friends thought she would get rich alongside them.

But as Pinterest's stock price rose, turning its founders into billionaires, Ms Martinez realised she would not be compensated or credited for her contributions, she said.

On Monday (Sept 13), she sued.

In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court in California, Ms Martinez accused Mr Ben Silbermann and Mr Paul Sciarra, two of Pinterest's three co-founders, of breach of implied contract, idea theft, unjust enrichment and unfair business practices.

Ms Martinez created Pinterest alongside Mr Silbermann and Mr Sciarra, the lawsuit said, contributing ideas that were "core organising concepts," such as organising images on boards and enabling e-commerce.

Ms Martinez, 40, was never formally employed by Pinterest nor did she ask for a contract. She was not given stock, though she said Pinterest's founders had verbally agreed to compensate her many times.

Ms Martinez argued that she and the founders had an implied contract, based on their discussions. Pinterest even named a section of its source code after her, according to the complaint.

A Pinterest spokesman said that Ms Martinez's allegations were without merit and that the company would defend its position in court.

The lawsuit renews questions about whether Pinterest, which caters primarily to female users, is hostile to women and minorities in its workplace.

Over the summer, Ms Ifeoma Ozoma and Ms Aerica Shimizu Banks, two former Pinterest employees, wrote on Twitter about the pay disparities, retaliation and sexist, racist comments they had experienced at the company.

Shortly after, Ms Francoise Brougher, Pinterest's former chief operating officer, sued the company, claiming gender discrimination and retaliation.

In December, the company agreed to a US$22.5 million (S$30.2 million) settlement with Ms Brougher, including a US$2.5 million donation toward charities for women and underrepresented minorities in tech.

According to the lawsuit, Ms Martinez gave the co-founders the idea of organising images on "boards", a core feature of the site; created its call-to-action phrase, "Pin it"; and established its main categories including home decor, fashion and DIY (do-it-yourself).

She also helped Mr Silbermann persuade top design and lifestyle bloggers to use Pinterest and promote it. She took him to conferences, gathered feedback from the community and honed the pitch, she said.

Ms Martinez said she realised she would not be compensated only after Pinterest went public in 2019.

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