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Reddit taken to San Francisco court for firing worker with anxiety

A new lawsuit claims a Reddit staffer was fired for poor performance after taking sick leave for anxiety. | Source: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/Getty Images

A former Reddit staffer was unfairly fired for poor performance after taking three months of sick leave for anxiety, a lawsuit filed Monday in San Francisco alleges.

Jamie Lee, who worked for Reddit for four years as a senior accountant and corporate accounting manager, had served under five different supervisors, who all gave her positive performance reviews, the complaint states.

Lee also received multiple promotions, pay increases, awards and a bonus during her tenure at the company, the complaint adds.

Lee has a medical history of generalized anxiety, which deteriorated in July 2022 with symptoms that included regular panic attacks, trouble breathing, difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances. Her anxiety was so severe that it was classified as a disability by her doctors, court documents say.

After she reportedly fainted at work on Aug. 12, 2022, Lee was placed on medical leave by her health care provider, but, when she notified her supervisor, Sung Hwang, she complained that Lee would be missing a work meeting in Los Angeles and that the company would be making crucial decisions in her absence, the complaint states.

READ MORE: San Francisco-Based Reddit’s r/Place Returns, With Staunch Message for CEO Steve Huffman

Lee began her medical leave on Aug. 15, 2022, and was cleared to return to work on Nov. 18, the complaint adds. Lee was fired by Hwang for “poor performance” on the day she returned to work, the complaint alleges.

When she asked Hwang for examples of her poor performance, none were provided, the lawsuit alleges.

Hwang had also given Lee stellar performance reviews and her highest raise one month prior to the start of  her three-month medical leave, the complaint adds.

‘Toxic’ Workplace Culture

Two other senior accountants also resigned after coming back from medical and paternal leaves due to a “toxic” change in culture, the filing states.

Representing Lee, attorney Navruz Avloni said Reddit’s workplace culture shifted after co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the board in 2020 amid a flurry of changes at the top of the social media firm. Previously, the company had portrayed an image of prioritizing the staff's well-being before Ohanian’s exit, Avloni said.

In June, Fidelity—which led all investors during Reddit’s most recent funding round in 2021—slashed the estimated worth of the popular social media platform by 41%.

“Based on our observations of what has transpired with our client’s experience, there has absolutely been a shift,” Avloni told The Standard. “Here we have an employee who clearly needed leave because of her disability—and then she gets terminated—which is not very in sync with the type of image that Reddit has built over the years about caring about employees' well-being.”

The lawsuit comes after Reddit found itself engulfed in controversy when the website announced it would charge for the use of its API—its Application Programming Interface—in April.

The API had been free for the previous seven years, allowing application builders to use Reddit’s publicly available data.

Reddit did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

Joel Umanzor can be reached at jumanzor@sfstandard.com