Google has recently come under fire after their decision to fire an employee, James Damore, after Damore published a controversial memo internally detailing his views on how the company engages in ideological discrimination, and how Google could improve project make‐up. Anticipating blow back, Demore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), believing that discriminatory actions were coming.
But this is not the first time that Google has been under the lens of the NLRB or the Department of Labor (DOL) for issues of ideological discrimination, retaliatory actions based on views held by an employee, or for creating a chilling effect against the voicing of complaints and whistle blowing of illegal corporate behavior.
Let’s start our tale in media res, for those not up‐to‐date on the recent fire raging across social media regarding the case of James Damore.
On August 5th of this year, Motherboard reported the existence of an internal memo that had gone “viral” within the company. The memo, titled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, details Damore’s views that Google engaged in active discrimination against conservative ideas, as well as provided his views on how diverse and effective teams could be built using what we know from biological sciences.
Damore had been working with Google since 2013 after completing an internship, and being hired on by the company. According to his Linkedin profile, he graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS in Molecular Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and received a Masters in Systems Biology from Harvard where he was pursuing a PhD in that field before he started his Google internship.
The all too common social media outrage machine went into gear, quite obviously influenced the company’s decision, after Gizmodo published a leaked version of the memo, but not before stripping linked sources and charts. A full copy of the memo, with links and charts intact, can be found here. Removing the supporting evidence that Demore included in this memo is particularly egregious to us, as the author of the memo *does* have educational experience in the subject he was speaking of.
But we are not here today to parse the ideas of the memo itself, as it was just the kindling for this recent flame underneath Google.
While none of us at SuperNerdLand are lawyers, we have not been the only ones to think that Google may have fell afoul of Federal and State labor laws in the United States regarding discriminatory and retaliatory labor actions that a even a non‐union employer must abide. Dan Eaton, a San Diego labor lawyer, wrote for CNBC on the matter, detailing some statutes that may have been broken, as well as summing up aptly with “The lawful response to this software engineer’s memo, however, appears to be continuation of the dialogue he started rather than termination of his employment.”
This particular story is still in progress. James Damore has smartly lawyered up on this, as well as has made the previously mentioned complaints to the National Labor Review Board. When it comes to NLRB complaints, and labor complaints in general, Google seems to be no stranger. In fact, the past two years have seen a few complaints and lawsuits that circle around the same ideas of discrimination and retaliation come up against the search and mobile OS giant.
So let’s rewind the clock a little and take a look at some of these cases, to help put into light where Google currently stands.
We will start our recalling at May 17th, 2016, which is when a former employe of Nest, an Alphabet subsidiary, submitted a complaint to the NLRB for coercion and retaliation after the employee was unceremoniously fired. As reported by Business Insider, the main offense the former employee cited was his posting of memes critical of former Nest CEO Tony Fadell on a private Facebook group that had current and former Google employees in it. This case sits currently open with the NLRB.
Before advancing in our timeline, it is of worth that there is a related NLRB complaint against Google that is still open from November 2015 that we found when researching this. Guess what this complaint alleges? You would never guess.
Now let’s move forward a bit. In December 21st, 2016 reports started to circulate that Google was under fire from a lawsuit brought up by an anonymous group of plaintiffs, alleging that the company restricted the civil liberties of employees with it’s overzealous “spying” program in place to help uphold confidentiality agreements.
The lawsuit alleges that the practices of Google go farther than just pure protection of confidential ideas and IP, to go as far as restricting whether someone could be a whistleblower against wrongdoing, or even discussing with a spouse what an employee thought of the work performance of their boss.
This case, much like the complaints filed with the NLRB, remains open at the time of writing.
And now we can actually get to 2017. This gets fun, because this is where the Department of Labor starts to come in.
As reported by the Guardian just last month, the Department of Labor has looked into Google for creating a “chilling effect” on employees by engaging in discriminatory actions in relation to a Department investigation of ‘extreme’ wage disparities affecting women at the company.
“We have had employees during the course of the investigation express concerns about whether they are permitted by Google to talk to the government, because the company policy commits them to confidentiality,” Janet Herold, labor department regional solicitor, told the Guardian in an interview after the judge’s order.
“When even a single employee expresses that, that means many more people are too concerned to make the call or have the conversation. The chilling effect is quite extreme.” — Via The Guardian
If I can venture an opinion for a second, this author does find it sadly ironic that the company that is firing people for wrongthink is also the same company alleged to have “…systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce…” according to the Department of Labor.
This brings us back to this August, and the start of the most recent allegation of discrimination and retaliation at Google from James Damore. With past events in view, it certainly seems like the events surrounding Damore are not the start of a pattern, but the indication of systemic issues via certain corporate wide actions over the past few years. While some of these past actions have gotten the attention of the media, the way this present situation with James Damore has been framed has made these previous two years cases all the more revalent.
It indicates that instead of just a one‐off event, it’s the norm to be retaliated against for not touting the status quo at Google. If anything, the recent labor history should invoke a long look at the practices of the ubiquitous company, internally and externally.
To slightly change an oft said Ian Fleming quote, “Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times indicates a problem.”