The Industry

Google Ends Forced Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct Claims

Google employees walk off the job to protest the company’s handling of sexual misconduct claims.
Google employees walk off the job to protest the company’s handling of sexual misconduct claims. Mason Trinca/Getty Images

Google announced Thursday that it will end its forced arbitration policy for sexual misconduct claims and update its reporting mechanisms and mandatory trainings for sexual harassment.

The move comes two weeks after the New York Times published an investigation into the company’s lucrative payouts and discretion for executives who have been credibly accused of misconduct. For example, the Times reported that Google gave Android software creator Andy Rubin $90 million and a public statement of gratitude when he left over accusations of coercing an employee to perform sexual acts.

The revelations led to 20,000 employees walking out in protest as well as intense public scrutiny on the company. “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that,” CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post on the policy reforms. “It’s clear we need to make some changes.”

Employment contracts at Google have previously included a clause mandating that workers must handle all complaints against the company in private arbitration hearings, rather than open court. Critics contend that this process often allows companies to keep serious grievances hidden. In May, Uber and Lyft also withdrew their forced arbitration requirements for employees, drivers, and riders who have sexual violence claims. However, Google, Uber, and Lyft’s new policies apparently only apply to “individual” sexual assault and harassment claims, which leaves the door open for the companies to pursue forced arbitration if handling class-action lawsuits.

Ending forced arbitration was one demand that Google employees had given to management during the protest last week. Google’s vice presidents reportedly met on Wednesday to review the list, which also included demands for equality in compensation and opportunities, a chief diversity officer who would report directly to Pichai, an employee representative on the company’s board, and standardized procedures worldwide for reporting sexual harassment. Google executives are holding a town hall with employees on Thursday to discuss the demands.

Beyond the reforms, the New York Times investigation and subsequent uproar also led to the departure of Richard DeVaul, a former executive at the company’s secretive development and research spinoff Google X. The Times reported that DeVaul had told a job applicant that he was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife. The applicant said DeVaul later requested that she take off her shirt and offered a back rub when she met with him at Burning Man.