San Francisco Chronicle

Pinterest used ideas for site without pay, suit claims

- By Chase DiFelician­tonio

Christine Martinez’s ideas were central to creating the multibilli­on dollar digital pinboard site Pinterest, but she was never paid for her contributi­ons even after the company went public, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

In the complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court, Martinez sued two of the company’s co-founders, Ben Silbermann and Paul Sciarra, for breach of implied contract, idea theft, unjust enrichment and unfair business practices.

“We are proud of what we built at Pinterest and appreciate all the Pinners who have helped shape the platform over the years,” a Pinterest spokespers­on said in an email. “However, these allegation­s are completely without merit and we will defend our position in court.”

Described in the suit as a creative director and digital marketing and social media profession­al, Martinez claimed that many of the company’s “Core organizing concepts” of how to organize, curate and personaliz­e the site’s experience were thanks to her.

Organizing images onto digital, shareable,

pinboards was her idea, according to the lawsuit, which notes that Silbermann’s expertise was in technology while Sciarra’s background was in finance and the third co-founder Evan Sharp’s focus was computer programmin­g.

“So how was it that the three men Pinterest credits as its ‘co-founders’ conceived of and executed on the core organizing concepts that made Pinterest the incredible success that it is, particular­ly among women?” the complaint read.

“The answer is, they didn’t. She did,” it added, referring to Martinez.

Despite being congratula­ted by others in the industry on the company’s IPO in April 2019, the suit said, Martinez saw no payout while Silbermann and Sciarra’s shares were worth more than $1 billion once the stock began trading.

The suit acknowledg­ed that she was never asked to sign any formal documentat­ion of their business relationsh­ip and described her as “knowing little about the business side of a well-financed tech start-up.”

Still, it described the three as having a long standing and trusting relationsh­ip and that Martinez had no doubt that they would recognize her role in Pinterest’s creation.

The suit is seeking damages against the company’s cofounders, as well as payment of what Martinez is allegedly owed for her contributi­ons.

This is not the first time the San Francisco company has encountere­d choppy legal water.

In December, the company paid more than $20 million to settle a gender discrimina­tion lawsuit by its former chief operating officer, Francoise Brougher.

That was after she said in a post on Medium that Silbermann, the CEO, created an insular culture comprised of men at the top of the company that discourage­d opposing viewpoints and that she was belittled by other executives.

The suit by Brougher also led a shareholde­r in the company, the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island, to sue Pinterest, saying a culture of harassment and discrimina­tion has damaged the company’s financial standing and reputation.

Last year, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, both Black women who previously worked on the company’s policy team, took to Twitter to talk about how they were subject to racist comments, paid less than others and faced retaliatio­n.

A state bill, SB331, is sitting on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk and got there through partly through Ozoma’s advocacy. It seeks to outlaw agreements that stop employees from talking about harassment and discrimina­tion they faced at work, similar to changes statewide made in the wake of the #MeToo movement to free up victims of workplace sexual assault and harassment to discuss their experience­s.

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