Google Staff Meet To Discuss Corporate Retaliation For Walkout

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‘Town Hall’ meeting after staff allege Google regularly retaliates against employees who speak out

Google staff have issued a fresh set of demands in a sign that workplace tension within the search engine giant is not easing.

The demands come after staff activists at Google held a “town hall” meeting on Friday in which they alleged that Google regularly retaliates against employees who speak out.

There have been signs of internal tensions within Google for a while now. Last November 20,000 Google staff around the world staged a mass walkout to protest at the lenient treatment and payouts for executives accused of sexual harassment.

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Google discrimination?

Two of the organizers of the November global walkout, Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, have circulated a letter internally to other Google staffers, alleging they are being punished for their activism.

According to the New York Times, Ms. Stapleton, a marketing manager at YouTube, said Google had demoted her after she urged colleagues to walk out from the company last year over its treatment of sexual harassment.

Stapleton said, Google instructed her to take medical leave even though she was not sick, according to the letter.

Meanwhile Ms. Whittaker, an artificial intelligence researcher, said in the letter that she had also been “informed my role would be changed dramatically.”

In addition to the demotion, Ms. Whittaker said she had been told to abandon her external work at New York University, where she runs research on artificial intelligence and ethics for the university’s A.I. Now Institute.

Ms. Stapleton said she had hired a lawyer and reversed the demotion.

The letter is also said to include anonymous reports of retaliation of 11 other Google employees.

Town Hall

Into this heady mix of allegations came a ‘town hall’ meeting on Friday, which according to the Guardian newspaper was livestreamed for Google employees in offices around the world

“I didn’t walk out because I’m against Google, I walked out because I’m for it – because I wanted to make it better,” Stapleton is quoted as saying. “I’m not speaking out now against Google – I’m speaking up for all the people who have been too afraid to tell their stories … and I understand that fear.”

The group have reportedly published an internal document with a new set of “demands”, which include a “transparent, open investigation of HR and its abysmal handling of employee complaints relating to working conditions, discrimination, harassment and retaliation”.

The organisers have also demanded a public response from Google co-founder Larry Page, and that Google meet the demands that were issued for the November walkout.

“Google has had six months to meet [those] demands; in that time, they’ve partially met only one of them,” the document reportedly states. “Google seems to have lost its mooring and trust between workers and the company is deeply broken. The company has no clear direction and is just progressing from crisis to crisis lately.”

Dignity and respect

Google responded last week in a blog posting, in which it promised a number of updates to workplace policies related to reporting misconduct and investigations.

“The commitments we made in November aren’t just about changing policies or launching new programs,” wrote Melonie Parker, global director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We want every Googler to walk into a workplace filled with dignity and respect.”

But some Google staffers feel otherwise, as evidenced by a New York Times article last year that alleged that Google had protected three senior executives from allegations of sexual misconduct, which allegedly included the father of Android Andy Rubin.

Rubin stepped down from his position as Android boss in 2013, and eventually left Google altogether in October 2014.

Rubin however has denied the sexual misconduct allegations and has said that the New York Times story contained ‘numerous inaccuracies,’ and wild exaggerations about his compensation.

But matters were not helped in March this year, when court documents revealed a very senior Google executive had been paid a huge amount of money as part of a controversial severance package.

Amit Singhal was reportedly paid as much as $45m according to some media reports, after he was allegedly forced to resign from the search engine giant, after a sexual assault investigation.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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