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Pinterest Used Her Ideas, ‘Erased’ Her Pay, Influencer Says

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(Bloomberg) -- A woman with 5 million followers on Pinterest Inc. claimed in a lawsuit that founders of the company, Ben Silbermann and Paul Sciarra, used her ideas to help create the social-media platform and never compensated her.

Christine Martinez, a digital marketing strategist who lives in Oakland, California, said in a state court filing on Monday in that she was friends with Silbermann when he asked her to help “salvage a failed shopping app,” which would later become Pinterest.

Martinez claims she came up with key concepts, including allowing users to create inspiration-style pinboards reflecting their tastes in fashion, travel, design and other interests, and technology enabling people to purchase the wares featured there. She also said she created a marketing plan early on for Pinterest to enlist bloggers to recruit the platform’s target audience, mainly women.

She was so integral to the site’s creation that Silbermann and Sciarra embedded her name in the platform’s source code, according to the lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court against the founders and Pinterest. The company, which went public in 2019 and is valued at more than $35 billion, says it has about 450 million monthly active users.

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

The lawsuit is the latest to assert gender issues involving Pinterest, which is based in San Francisco. The company’s former chief operating officer, Francoise Brougher, reached a $22 million settlement with the company last year after suing over gender discrimination. Two others have publicly aired allegations of poor treatment toward minority employees.

Martinez, who claims breach of contract, unjust enrichment and unfair business practices, acknowledged in the lawsuit that she was not an employee and didn’t have a contract for her work. But she said the executives promised to compensate her, and she expected they would pay her once they were able. Because of personal relationships -- her husband knew Silbermann from Yale University -- she took them at their word.

Pinterest raised $14 billion from the share offering, enriching Silbermann and Sciarra, according to the complaint. They “did not share with her any part of the extraordinary financial windfall defendants realized that day as a result of her ideas and efforts,” the lawsuit said. Martinez “had been erased from the company’s history.”

The case is Martinez vs Pinterest, RG21112456, Alameda County Superior Court.

(Adds response from company)

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