Google walkout organizers hold sit-in to protest alleged retaliation

PHOTO: The new Google logo is displayed at the Google headquarters, Sept. 2, 2015, in Mountain View, Calif. PlayJustin Sullivan/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH News headlines today: May 1, 2019

Hundreds of Google employees participated in a sit-in on Wednesday to support organizers of the global Google walkout last November who say the company has retaliated against them.

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The walkout was organized after a report that Google had paid former Android exec Andy Rubin $90 million in severance after a sexual assault claim was made against him by a colleague, which was first reported by The New York Times.

Two of the seven leaders of the walkout in November recently claimed in internal emails that they had been punished for organizing the worldwide protests last fall, according to Wired.

"Hundreds of people showed up to the @google NYC anti-retaliation sit-in, planned in under 24hrs. So many brave people shared their stories. There were tears and talk of unions," Meredith Whittaker, one of the organizers of the original walkout and today’s sit-in, tweeted.

The sit-in involved Google employees in New York gathering to share stories of alleged retaliation, some of which were published in a Medium post. Employees also called in sick and set "Out of Office" email messages in protest of the alleged targeting of the walkout’s organizers.

"The Google NYC anti-retaliation sit-in was POWERFUL. We're hearing similar reports from Cambridge, London, & Pittsburgh. More to come as we move across time zones and more employees act to say retaliation is #NotOkGoogle," the organizers’ account, Google Walkout For Real Change, tweeted.

Initially, the November walkout seemed well-received by management. One week later, Google announced it would drop forced arbitration for sexual misconduct cases, enabling victims to sue in open court.

In recent weeks, though, Wired reported that the walkout leaders said they were demoted or had significantly diminished job duties after the walkout.

Whittaker, the founder and lead of Google’s Open Research group, claims she was told that her role would be “changed dramatically,” and to “abandon” her work on artificial intelligence (AI) ethics and her role at AI Now Institute, a research center at New York University, which she co-founded, because she organized the walkout, according to Wired.

PHOTO: Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies at a House Judiciary Committee hearing examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 11, 2018. Jim Young/Reuters, FILE
Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies at a House Judiciary Committee hearing examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 11, 2018.

Another organizer, Claire Stapleton wrote in an email obtained by Wired that after the protest she was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube and lose half her reports. After speaking with human resources, she wrote, “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."

After Stapleton hired a lawyer, Google seemed to back off, although her workplace "remains hostile," she wrote.

On Wednesday, the Google Walkout For Real Change twitter account shared stories from employees of alleged retaliation, including one from a worker who said she gave her manager an average review after he clearly played favorites.

"He said he did not want to fire me, but wanted me to start behaving like ‘a good girl’ (I was 32 years old at the time). After three months of obeying his orders he got bored and left me alone. I never spoke about promotion once in the next five years at Google," the account tweeted.

On Wednesday, Google issued a statement about the concerns of the sit-in organizers.

"We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy. To make sure that no complaint raised goes unheard at Google, we give employees multiple channels to report concerns, including anonymously, and investigate all allegations of retaliation,” the statement read.

On April 25, Google's Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker sent a company-wide email to employees about its new workplace policies. It was also published on the company's blog.

The company said it will streamline the way employees can report concerns, including temporary workers and company vendors, internally publish an annual Investigations Report of misconduct revelations, and provide more support to employees raising complaints or prompting investigations, Parker wrote.