Google's Funding of U.S. Chamber of Commerce Undermines its Claimed Commitment to Gender Equality

By Anastasia Christman and Daniel Dudis

An open letter to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, Danielle Brown, Google’s Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, and Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.

Dear Sundar, Danielle and Susan:

Now is obviously a difficult time for many women working at the Alphabet family of companies. In light of the memo circulated by a Google software engineer that questioned women’s innate abilities and the pertinence of Google’s diversity programs, many female Alphabet employees may be questioning the company’s true commitment to gender diversity, particularly in light of the ongoing U.S. Department of Labor investigation into allegations of gender-based compensation disparities at Google and the recently announced class action lawsuit alleging that Google denied promotions and career opportunities to qualified women.

Your responses to the memo (here, here and here) will surely be welcomed by many Alphabet employees as evidence that the company is committed to gender diversity.

But are you aware that Google funds the nation’s largest lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? And are you aware that the Chamber has a long history of lobbying and litigating against legislation aimed at protecting women in the workplace – and that it continues to do so today?

Dating back to at least the 1960s, the Chamber has opposed policies designed to promote gender equality in the workplace. The Chamber opposed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal for employers to engage in sex discrimination. In 1977, the Chamber lobbied against amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect women from job discrimination because of pregnancy. Just a year later, the Chamber lobbied against the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, arguing that pregnancy was a “voluntary” condition and so therefore didn’t merit legal protection.

In 1987, the Chamber warned that the Family and Medical Leave Act would set a “dangerous precedent of federally mandated employee benefits.” The Chamber’s opposition to the FMLA was harmful to women not just because the law allows employees to take unpaid leave while caring for a newborn infant, but also because it gives time off for employees to recover from a serious illness or to care for an ill family member -- a task that can often fall to women.

In 1998, the Chamber opposed legislation designed to increase penalties for pay discrimination. Ignoring mountains of evidence attesting to the reality of pay discrimination, the Chamber claimed that gender-based wage disparities were not the result of discrimination but were instead due to the fact that many women interrupt their careers to raise a family.

As we entered a new century, the Chamber continued pushing its antiquated ideas. In 2007, the Chamber filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, supporting Lilly Ledbetter's employer in its defense against her pay discrimination suit. The Chamber’s lawyers complained that Ledbetter’s "tear-stained testimony" might prejudice the jury against her employer. Then, in 2009, the Chamber urged members of Congress to oppose the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was passed in response to the Supreme Court’s decision requiring victims of pay discrimination to bring their pay discrimination claims within 180 days of receiving their first unequal paycheck, even if they did not learn until years later that they were being paid unfairly. The act clarified that every unequal paycheck restarts the 180-day clock to bring a claim.

As if lobbying against a ban on pregnancy discrimination and opposing equal pay for equal work weren’t enough, in 2009, the Chamber even lobbied against legislation that would have allowed victims raped while working to bring lawsuits against their employers rather than be forced into secret arbitration with an arbitrator chosen by their employers.

In both 2014 and 2015, the Chamber opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would have addressed the pay gap by requiring companies to justify pay discrepancies based on legitimate factors such as education, training and experience. And this year, when the Chamber laid out its labor priorities for the new Congress, it stated that while Democrats are still fighting “what they ostensibly see as lingering inequality in wages between men and women,” Republicans should use the opportunity to focus more on anti-retaliation and clarification of employers’ defenses. In short, the Chamber’s attitude can be summarized as no need to worry about this so-called sex discrimination, but please make it easier for companies to defend themselves in court.

As senior executives, you doubtless understand what the Chamber doesn’t seem to get: Sex discrimination not only harms female employees, it also harms companies. Companies’ commitment to diversity isn’t all altruism; it’s also born of the knowledge that attracting, cultivating and keeping the best talent is good for the bottom line.

As part of your stated commitment to diversity and gender equality, we urge you to reconsider Alphabet’s relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If Alphabet is really serious about gender equality in the workplace, it cannot continue to fund an organization that has done so much to oppose gender equality. Your public defenses of diversity and gender equality are a good first step, but actions always speak louder than words. Alphabet’s legions of female employees deserve to know that the company for which they work isn’t funding a group that has spent decades fighting against their rights. Alphabet also has an opportunity to show leadership on an issue that has plagued Silicon Valley, as Uber’s recent troubles have vividly shown. We urge you to show this leadership and stop funding the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Sincerely,

Anastasia Christman, Senior Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project

Daniel Dudis, Director, Chamber Watch Project, Public Citizen

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