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 blow back would be dis­crim­i­na­to­ry.

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 ideals, 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.  

The lev­el of memes that get you fired from Nest

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.”

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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand