Fired Google engineer James Damore and his lawyer say they’ve talked to other Google employees who claim to have been discriminated against for challenging Google’s liberal political orthodoxy, suggesting the tech giant may face additional legal fallout from the incident.
Google fired Damore earlier this month after he posted a memo on an internal discussion board questioning women’s fitness to be engineers. Damore has filed an unfair-labor-practice charge against the company and said he may sue. Now, he and attorney Harmeet Dhillon say they’re exploring broader legal action against the company, on behalf of multiple Google employees.
In an interview, Damore says his firing was not “an independent or isolated event. What I was trying to complain about was the history of political discrimination at Google.” After he was fired August 7 for violating Google’s code of conduct by perpetuating gender stereotypes, Damore says other ex-Googlers told him they had been fired for similar reasons. “It’s a much stronger story and something that Google really has to respond to by actually changing their policies, rather than giving me hush money,” Damore says.
Dhillon is a prominent San Francisco Republican who was considered for a post in the Trump administration. Wednesday, her firm posted a notice on its website saying it is “investigating Google’s employment discrimination against employees on the basis of their political views.” Among other things, the notice seeks people who may have been “written up for ‘un-Googly conduct’ for refusing to comply with the political orthodoxy at the company.”
Damore says at least five others have expressed interest in pursuing legal action. Dhillon says she cannot verify that number. She says she is considering several possible grounds for a lawsuit, including penalizing people for their political beliefs, which are protected in California.
Google spokesman Ty Sheppard says free expression is encouraged at Google, to a point. “We have strong policies against retaliation, harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We also strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves. An important part of our culture is lively debate. But like any workplace that doesn’t mean that anything goes,” he says, pointing to an August 8 memo from CEO Sundar Pichai to employees.
The threat of potential litigation from political conservatives arrives as Google also faces claims that it is discriminating against women. The US Department of Labor is investigating whether Google pays women less than men. James Finberg, an attorney at Altshuler Berzon, says he is considering a private class-action suit making similar claims. Finberg says interviews with more than 80 current and former employees suggest women were paid less for similar work and were channeled into lower levels or non-technical jobs. Women make up 31 percent of Google’s workforce, and only 20 percent of its technical workforce.
Damore says he posted his memo in early July, shortly after attending a day-long conference on diversity and inclusion at Google. He says he thought some of the policies discussed during the conference were wrong, such as managers “constantly referring to people as diversity candidates and the special treatment we would give them.” He adds, “I have studied this a lot just for academia, how practices like affirmative action can actually be counter-productive.” He says he wrote the memo to document what he considers the faults of Google’s diversity efforts. “It was mostly this didn’t fit right in my head so I wanted to write it down to clarify my thoughts.”
Damore says he felt more persecuted as managers responded to his memo and, he says, misrepresented his arguments. He accused one manager of “providing a platform to crucify me.”
Such exchanges helped prompt him to file the unfair-labor-practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Aug. 2. Damore says that Google was aware of the NLRB charge when he was fired five days later. “While I was on the phone they deactivated my corporate account,” he says.
Damore says he considered Google his “dream company” when he left a PhD program at Harvard to join in late 2013. “I want Google to actually change,” he says. “I don’t want Google to turn into the Soviet Union.” Google’s suppression of dissenting points of view “would not be good for humanity as a whole,” Damore says.
Damore says he chose Dhillon, a member of the Republican National Committee, to represent him in part because, “I felt like it would be good to have someone that’s at least ideologically driven in some ways,” says Damore. “I wouldn’t want someone that was against me and was only doing it to get the most money or something.”
What ideology is that? “I am a prominent conservative, I think that is well known to the press,” says Dhillon. “I think you can Google that and figure it out.”