By: Rik Larsson
Google memo firing lands California tech giant in state court over anti-conservative bias
In early August 2017, Motherboard reported on a 10-page internal Google memo, written by software engineer James Damore. The memo, cautioning against the company’s attempts to impose ideological orthodoxy, was labeled an “anti-diversity manifesto.” Within 24 hours, the usual opinion-mill publications picked up on this latest incidence of sexist ‘tech-bro’ culture. Damore was skewered as a misogynist who believes women are biologically unfit to work in tech, and commentators jumped at the chance to bag a body.
Within a few days, Google announced that Damore had been fired. Now Damore is suing Google for workplace discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and most interestingly, violation of labor laws protecting employees’ rights to free political exercise.
‘Hateful screed’? Or scientific consensus?
The “anti-diversity” memo that sent Google and the internet into a meltdown, in reality, made no such misogynist claims as were reported in the media. The memo stressed a need for tolerance, viewpoint diversity, and disciplined study of gender disparities using reliable academic sources.
Damore argued that the fact only 20% of Google’s tech employees are women does not itself imply discrimination (women make up only 18% of computer science majors, after all) but may partly be due to differing career preferences between men and women. The idea that in our current society men and women on average have slightly different preferences is not the least bit controversial in the behavioral sciences, and many scientists wrote in Damore’s defense.
But at Google, a company that data-mines users’ lives every second of every day, invoking data and research on gender was treated as an affront.
Damore’s bigger transgression was questioning attempts to artificially engineer a 50/50 gender distribution at Google, given differing levels of interest in working in tech. He suggested the methods being used were divisive, worsened sensitivity to perceived bias, and that there were more effective ways to make the culture welcoming to women.
To show that not all disparities are solely the result of discrimination, Damore cited data that when the preferences of the genders are viewed as distribution curves, women are more inclined to choose people-oriented and empathetic activities, and men as a group show more disposition towards systematizing and technically-oriented activities, which might partially explain the difference in women’s representation between Google’s public-relations versus tech departments. Damore went on to caution:
“Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions. …
“Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.”
Damore also pointed out that the company’s women-only workshops and projects aimed at coaching leadership and negotiation skills were reinforcing stereotypes and unfairly excluded men who did not already possess those skills from the same opportunities to develop them.
For advancing these viewpoints, Damore was hounded by his fellow employees and ultimately fired.
Google’s embrace of radical activism puts both on trial
The lengthy complaint filed in the suit against Google details the practices and attitudes among Google employees and management that led to an unwelcoming culture for conservatives and enabled a wave of harassment aimed at Damore. The allegations paint an unflattering picture of Google culture.
- Damore himself sent the memo to Google HR and expressed concern that women-and-minority-only programs, and exclusion of conservative political opinions were technically discriminatory and a violation of state law, but his concerns were in every case summarily ignored.
- Damore received multiple threats from co-workers. One read, “You’re a misogynist and a terrible person. I will keep hounding you until one of us is fired. Fuck you.” After forwarding these threats to HR, Damore was told to work from home, then terminated.
- A Google director wrote in response to the controversy, “You know there are certain ‘alternative views, including different political views’ which I do not want people to feel safe to share here. … I intend to silence these views; they are violently offensive. Take your false equivalence and your fake symmetry, and shove them hard up where the sun doesn’t shine.” (emphasis in original)
- Google is alleged to have kept multiple blacklists of dissenters and conservatives, keeping them off of work projects, and actively screening them out certain selection processes.
- Google allegedly gave platforms for “alternative lifestyle” discussion and workshops, including ‘furry’ culture and holding an event in which an employee who self-identified as “a yellow-scaled wingless dragonkin” hosted a talk on “Living as a Plural Being.” At the same time, the HR department sent notices regarding complaints about employees promoting conservative or traditional parenting styles.
- The complaint alleges that Google allows employees to intimidate conservatives within the company with threats of termination, citing extensive posts on internal message boards calling for various people to be fired for expressing conservative views.
- A Google Manager allegedly encouraged white male employees invited to speaking engagements to turn down the opportunity if any other white males were already invited. Another manager posted regular and open disapproval of the appearance of males and whites on committees and panels.
- A Google manager posted, “Frankly, I could care less about being ‘unfair’ to white men,” following up later, “In the context of a discussion about whether we should engage in work to support people who are not white and/or not men in technology … I feel that if there is any harm to the interests of white men from that work, it is more than made up for by the benefits to everyone as a whole.”
California is an employment-at-will state, leaving the company broad latitude to terminate employees for any number of reasons. However, California is also one of the few states that give added protection for political affiliation in the workplace, prohibiting employers from adopting policies or rules that tend to control their employees’ political activities. It is also illegal to retaliate against an employee for bringing possible violations to the attention of the company.
The complaint states ten causes of action. Most are discrimination claims, which broadly fall into two groups of arguments:
1) Google actively discriminated against conservative political activity while favoring liberal points of view, and promoted or tolerated blacklisting, harassment, and threats of firing for stating views with which the liberal majority disagreed, creating a hostile workplace.
2) Google promoted or enabled anti-white and anti-male opinions posted on intra-company media and set arbitrary quotas and opportunities for non-whites and/or non-males, that unfairly disfavored whites and/or males.
The other notable cause of action alleges that Damore’s memo was an attempt to bring discriminatory practices to the attention of the company, and his firing in relation to the memo constituted illegal retaliation, a claim on which Google would carry the burden of proof.
While claims of political discrimination are among the weakest types of employment clams, if the protected political activity claims survive, part of the issue may be about whether ‘social justice’ derived community standards, or critique of them, are political activities.
The key defendant is the notion of the far-left that holds that opinions that do not support the idea that ingrained systemic oppression and socially-constructed biases drive all disparities, are themselves oppressive and deserve to be censored. As a Google director stated in an internal e-mail responding to the memo, “[Diversity] includes political views, and Google has room to improve in this area, but I refuse to accept that racism and misogyny are ‘political views’.”
It is exactly this attitude that makes this into a political conflict. Damore’s memo raised concern that Google’s activist narrative coercively suppresses common social and scientific norms and political opinions by labeling these views as harmful to diversity in order to silence them.
Critical-theory social justice efforts rely on a postmodern rejection of empirical critique, inherently framing issues as political rather than empirical. These theories further place the standard for what qualifies as socially harmful solely within the subjective evaluation of the offendee. For instance, expressing support for a conservative political party or candidate can come to be treated as offensive or harmful in progressive environments.
Progressive theories that place the acceptability of personal conduct and expression at the capricious whims of the easily-offended instead of on social or academic consensus, are inherently coercive when they serve as the employee handbook, particularly to moderates and conservatives, who are in the minority at Google and do not typically possess the same views.
In short, the question becomes whether people who stand up for common sense evidence-based approaches have a right to be protected from progressive mob anger or summary firing.
A finding that the far-left’s suppression of outside views constitutes an illegal restriction on political exercise would send a shockwave through progressive America, and encourage others to challenge the invasion of radical progressive activism. The effect would be felt most strongly in liberal universities, where some version of the Google drama now plays out almost weekly.
The race and gender discrimination claims are less novel territory. Diversity efforts that rely on exclusion on the basis of race or sex criteria have been judged illegal in the past. It would not be a surprise to see a company found liable for denying people opportunities to participate in mentorship and skills workshops or advancement programs on the basis of being white and/or male. Even winning on the grounds of failure to address pervasive hostile comments from managers and employees would not be unprecedented in this type of lawsuit. But if Google’s social justice and bias training programs are found to have created a hostile environment or promoted the shaming or negative characterization of white and/or male employees, it could help turn the tide against cultural neo-Marxism and send it back into the confines of fringe liberal arts classrooms from whence it came.
Damore is not suing only on behalf of himself but on behalf of any employee discriminated against at Google based on conservatism, race, or gender. While most lawsuits settle out of court before trial, and a company as big as Google would ordinarily pay somebody like Damore to go away, a class action makes things more complicated. And expensive.
If the complaint progresses and the class is certified, we can likely expect many more interesting documents to turn up in relation to Google culture. The lawyers involved will go through Google’s entire employee base to find additional plaintiffs to joint to the action, many of whom may be coworkers who originally defended Damore when he wrote his memo.
For those who wonder whether the case being tried in California stacks the deck against a conservative plaintiff class, it is important to note that Google’s stance is not yet fully mainstream on the left, and was off-putting to many. As female tech worker Margot Page wrote in an open letter to Damore in Money:
“The fact that so many are calling for your head makes me pretty sad. The orthodoxies of diversity that I see all around me are almost always stated in absolute terms, to the extent that sincere curiosity and questions can get a person a really horrible label (sexist, racist, jerk). I also believe that, in the end, the way feminist orthodoxies get expressed (and I am a pretty orthodox feminist, don’t get me wrong) runs deeply counter to the effort of inclusion.”
Being cautiously optimistic, the case very well could become a referendum on the social justice ideology that HR departments across the country have been subscribing to. Ironically, Google has also recently faced investigation by the US Department of Labor for allegedly systematically underpaying its female employees. While many of the claims were dismissed, Google’s troubles with its backfiring “inclusion” platform might just reveal Damore’s points to be true, that postmodernist diversity initiatives simultaneously are discriminatory in their attempt to artificially engineer parity, while failing to address the real root causes of gender gaps because they refuse to engage with outside opinions or factual analysis.