On Nov. 1, 2018, thousands of Google employees around the world staged a walkout, sparked by outrage that the tech giant quietly handed out massive golden parachutes to executives accused of serious sexual harassment allegations.
Now, two of the employees who helped organize the protest say Google is retaliating against them ― and other activists ― for their roles in the walkout.
Google employees Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton made the allegations in a letter sent to co-workers on Monday. Whittaker says Google dramatically changed her role at the company after the rally by disbanding an artificial intelligence ethics council she co-founded. And despite years of high performance reviews, Stapleton was demoted and told to take leave.
“Google’s retaliation isn’t about me, or [Claire Stapleton],” she wrote. “It’s about silencing dissent & making us more afraid to speak honestly about tech & power. NOT OK. Now more than ever, it’s time to speak up.”
In an email to HuffPost, Google denied any sort of retaliation had taken place, casting the work reassignments as a normal occurrence in a constantly shifting industry.
“We prohibit retaliation in the workplace, and investigate all allegations,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganized, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here.”
Here’s the full internal post, as relayed by Wired:
Hi all, This was a hard email to write.
Google is retaliating against several organizers.
We are among them and here is what’s happening to us:
Just after Google announced that it would disband its AI ethics council, I was informed my role would be changed dramatically. I’m told that to remain at the company I will have to abandon my work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute, which I cofounded, and which has been doing rigorous and recognized work on these topics. I have worked on issues of AI ethics and bias for years, and am one of the people who helped shape the field looking at these problems. I have also taken risks to push for a more ethical Google, even when this is less profitable or convenient.
After five years as a high performer in YouTube Marketing (and almost twelve at Google), two months after the Walkout, I was told that I would be demoted, that I’d lose half my reports, and that a project that was approved was no longer on the table. I escalated to HR and to my VP, which made things significantly worse. My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick. Only after I hired a lawyer and had her contact Google did management conduct an investigation and walked back my demotion, at least on paper. While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.
Our stories aren’t the only ones. Google has a culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities. Retaliation isn’t always obvious. It’s often confusing and drawn out, consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions. Behavior that tells someone the problem isn’t that they stood up to the company, it’s that they’re not good enough and don’t belong.
During the Walkout, we collected 350 stories. Reading them, a sad pattern emerges: People who stand up and report discrimination, abuse, and unethical conduct are punished, sidelined, and pushed out. Perpetrators often go unimpeded, or are even rewarded (Andy, Amit, “I reported, he got promoted”).
By punishing those who resist discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making. Google permits these behaviors. This harms people inside the company, and communities outside who bear the brunt of Google’s bad choices. If we want to stop discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making, we need to end retaliation against the people who speak honestly about these problems.
We need to push back. Here are some next steps:
1. We will be hosting a Retaliation Town Hall to share our stories and strategize. When: Friday, April 26, 11am PT/2pm ET. Add the event to your calendar here. [The message included an internal link to a livestream of the meeting.]
2. If you’ve been retaliated against, please share your story. (If you shared your story with the Walkout form, feel free to reshare and help keep everything in one place.) The more we share with each other, the easier it will be to push back. Add yours.