The Industry

The Former Employees Suing Google Have Conflicting Allegations About Its Biases

There have been four lawsuits filed against Google concerning workplace climate and politics.
There have been at least four lawsuits filed against Google concerning workplace climate and politics. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

Last Thursday, reports emerged that a former recruiter at YouTube had sued parent company Google in January for allegedly firing him after he criticized its diversity hiring practices as discriminating against white and Asian men.

It’s at least the fourth lawsuit this year against Google having to do with its internal politics and culture. The case of James Damore, the Google engineer whose controversial memo and subsequent firing set off a media firestorm, has heaped scrutiny onto the company’s workplace climate. Google has in many ways assumed the role of a college campus in the public consciousness, as people have begun viewing the company and its employee dynamics as a microcosm of the nation’s broader culture wars. Its workforce’s lack of race and gender diversity has received censure from the left; Google itself released a report in June indicating that women occupy only 20 percent of the company’s tech positions, and only 1 percent of the company’s tech workers in the U.S. are black. Yet, attempts to correct those disparities has triggered protest from the right. As a result of this debate, the media and even the courts have trained a microscope on the company’s employees and their quarrels with one another.

Here’s a roundup of the allegations from former employees suing Google in 2018. The company has disputed the claims in each case.

Hiring practices that disadvantage white and Asian applicants

Arne Wilberg, the ex-recruiter mentioned above, claims that Google fired him in November for complaining to his managers and the human resources department that YouTube was using illegal hiring quotas to boost numbers of black, Latino, and female employees. He further alleges that higher-ups had deleted emails and other documents outlining these diversity benchmarks, which on several occasions had required him to make decisions on candidates based on their race or gender.

Google sent Bloomberg a response reading, “We have a clear policy to hire candidates based on their merit, not their identity. At the same time, we unapologetically try to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for open roles, as this helps us hire the best people, improve our culture, and build better products.”

“Bro-culture” that enables sexual harassment

Loretta Lee was a software engineer at Google for seven years before the company fired her for poor performance in 2016, which she characterizes as a wrongful termination. She filed a lawsuit last month alleging that the company fostered a “bro-culture” in which co-workers repeatedly harassed her. There are a number of disturbing allegations outlined in her suit, including reports of male co-workers spiking her drinks, hiding under her desk, sending her inappropriate messages, and refusing to leave after showing up at her apartment with liquor. The suit even claims that a man slapped Lee in the face at a holiday party “for no apparent reason.” When she went to talk to HR about the issue, Lee claims that the representatives pressured her to file a formal complaint, for which she received internal retaliation from her team.

Google has denied Lee’s account and told Gizmodo in a statement, “We have strong policies against harassment in the workplace and review every complaint we receive. We take action when we find violations—including termination of employment.”

Discrimination against white conservative men and their views

Damore, perhaps Google’s most prominent right-wing agitator, authored a 10-page memo entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” when he was working at the company as an engineer. In it, he at one point suggested that biological differences between men and women account for the gender imbalance in the tech sector. A day after he posted the memo on an internal company network, Gizmodo obtained a copy and published it. Google subsequently denounced the memo and fired Damore, who quickly became a darling among conservatives. He and David Gudeman, a software engineer whom Google allegedly fired after the HR department accused him of suggesting that a Muslim co-worker may be a terrorist, joined together in January to sue the company for discriminating against white conservative men.

The National Labor Relations Board concluded in January that Damore’s firing did not violate labor laws since parts of the memo did not count as protected speech, Bloomberg reported. Google has also stated that it looks forward to “defending against Mr. Damore’s lawsuit in court.”

Suppressing opinions deemed too liberal

Tim Chevalier is an engineer who was fired in November after he had posted left-leaning commentary on Google’s internal message boards, often in opposition to Damore. He characterized the memo as “misogynistic” and contended that “white boys” feel threatened when they aren’t afforded certain privileges. Damore’s suit contains screenshots of a blog post that Chevalier wrote about punching Nazis. Chevalier, who is transgender, alleges in his lawsuit, “Google defines appropriate workplace speech by the standard of what someone with a cisgender, heterosexual, white, male, upper-middle-class background would say.” He further claims that he received censure from superiors and indifference from human resources, which eventually led to his termination.

Google sent a statement to Wired reading, “An important part of our culture is lively debate. But like any workplace, that doesn’t mean anything goes. All employees acknowledge our code of conduct and other workplace policies, under which promoting harmful stereotypes based on race or gender is prohibited. This is a very standard expectation that most employers have of their employees. The overwhelming majority of our employees communicate in a way that is consistent with our policies. But when an employee does not, it is something we must take seriously. We always make our decision without any regard to the employee’s political views.”