When Google engineer James Damore faced sharp criticism after circulating a memo arguing that female engineers were biologically less fit to succeed, it was poised to be a watershed moment for the tech giant to drastically improve its employee diversity and create a more inclusive workplace. But former and current Google employees are claiming that, instead, they have been fired or reprimanded for speaking out against racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in internal messaging boards.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the San Francisco County Superior Court, former site-reliability engineer Tim Chevalier claims that Google terminated him in November 2017 because of “his political statements in opposition to the discrimination, harassment, and white supremacy he saw being expressed on Google’s internal messaging systems.”
Such statements included a meme — posted shortly after the 2016 presidential election — with the caption, “White men felt disenfranchised because their needs are no longer centered and people of color and women are getting a fair share.” Another meme, which said, “I have opinions about forms of oppressions that don’t affect me,” was created after a black Google employee noted that she was asked to show her ID more frequently than her white colleagues. Chevalier’s meme was posted in response to another Google employee, who allegedly said that those employees were just doing their job in asking for her ID.
Scrutiny about Google’s diversity and workplace environment has remained heightened since the release of Damore’s controversial memo. Damore, who has since been fired, along with another former employee filed a class-action lawsuit against Google in January for wrongful termination, claiming that the company discriminates against white men.
But Chevalier’s lawsuit comes as a response to what some employees see as escalating efforts on Google’s part to discourage conversations about racism, sexism, and harassment at the company — efforts that these employees say have increased following the Damore controversy.
Bridget Spitznagel, an engineer who left the company last spring, claims that HR made her remove an internal post that she wrote with the link to an upcoming racial-justice workshop, according to Gizmodo. Colin McMillen, a current staff engineer, also told Gizmodo that HR reprimanded him for writing a post stating that he didn’t want to work with employees who agreed with Damore’s beliefs. And earlier this year, a former security engineer, Cory Altheide, said he was pressured by HR and a senior vice-president to discuss diversity initiatives on company forums.
In a statement sent to Gizmodo, Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano said, “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 … 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.”
But for Chevalier, who is disabled, transgender, and queer, his termination is just a form of “cruel irony.”
“Google attempted to justify firing me by claiming that my social networking posts showed bias against my harassers,” he told the Verge.