Google Should Rethink Its Stance on Gender, Race, and Politics
According to the latest statistics, 70% of Google’s staff is male and 61% of the company is white. Additionally, 75% of Google’s leadership are men and a mere 5% of the company is black or Hispanic (not counting mix race). With these statistics, allegations of sexism and racism towards white men are hard to believe.
However, the lawsuit filed by James Damore and David Gudeman contain some disturbing details. For instance, many employees expressed a desire to terminate coworkers who disagreed with them, some even joking that they should rehire them so that they could fire them twice.
What are the Details of the Case?
Certain Google managers keep “block lists” of employees they didn’t want to interact with. Message boards and emails exhibited in the lawsuit show that Google Managers would add employees to the lists partly based on political views. Since Google gives raises, bonuses, and promotions through peer reviews, these block lists would significantly impair an employee’s career path. More importantly, it gives employees the ability to recommend bonuses based on promotion of certain speech against other employees. One peer review praised another employee for “speaking up for googley values and promoting [diversity and inclusion] in the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is [Damore’s Memo].” It’s troubling and legally questionable whether this kind of contempt should be rewarded and therefore encouraged by a professionally traded company.
The most alarming complaint was a message by an employee who said that “40 something white men” were incapable of innovating even if they took credit for innovations. Although the message was clearly sexist, racist, and ageist, Google’s Human Resources Department allegedly refused to take action. The Google employee who had complained about the message asked whether HR would take action if the message had been about women instead of “40 something white men.” The lawsuit claims that HR did not respond to the comparison.
Gudeman’s Actions are Something to Keep in Mind
It should be noted that Gudeman’s own words and behavior contributed to some of the hostility towards him. Gudeman wrote about the need for men to protect themselves against bias by women to “protect himself from a system that is highly biased against him.” This conclusion would be highly controversial given data and current stories in the media right now, but Gudeman had a right to believe what he wanted. He went further though, and complained that his co-workers efforts to debate with him were akin to “slave owners would have written for their slaves to help them understand how to interact with their masters.” Obviously, a white man working at a global company making significant amounts of money comparing himself to a slave would anger a lot of people.
Gudeman also took issue with co-workers on other issues. When a Muslim co-worker said she was afraid that the next administration would target Muslims, Gudeman responded by saying: “In the administration of the most pro-Muslim president in history you were targeted just for being a Muslim? Why didn’t you file a civil rights suit? The Justice Department would take your side if it really happened.” Gudeman is ignorant about the Obama administration, since the Justice Department did target mosques during President Obama’s tenure. Gudeman is entitled to believe what he wants to believe, but wantonly dismissing a co-worker’s concerns is “a dick move.”
Aside: The lawsuit names Alex Jones as an influential conservative personality who was blacklisted from visiting Google premises (page 37, Line 150). Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist who alleges that 9/11 was a government conspiracy and that the Sandy Hook School Shooting was a hoax. If men like Alex Jones are “influential” conservatives, the hostility towards conservatives is understandable.
Separating Racial Bias from Political Bias
Easily the most legally actionable offense is the comment about “40 something white men” stealing innovations from others. The comment was by a Google employee on an internet forum commonly used by Google employees and viewed by Google employees. The comment mentions race (“white”), sex (“men”), and age (“40”). The complaint alleges that Google did nothing even though the comment was clearly hostile towards three different protected classes. If these kinds of comments were frequent and Google turned a blind eye, or worse, encouraged them, Google is liable under the Civil Rights Act for promoting a hostile work environment.
The Civil Rights Act covers all instances of race or sex based discrimination. It is entirely possible for a white person or for a man to be the victim of reverse discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination based on age, particularly if the plaintiff is 40 years or older. Google must stop illegal discrimination in its company or face injunctions and substantial fines.
If a person or movement is being a jerk, the hostility should be aimed at that person or movement. The person’s race or sex should not be targeted as well. This principle was applicable after the terrorist attacks on 9/11; Al Qaeda, its allies, and members are the specific bad guys, not Muslims in general. The same holds true for vile movements like white supremacy and neo-Nazis in these specific times, not white men in general.
Separating Political Discussion from Being a Jerk
The issue at large today is that the current Presidential Administration has abandoned professionalism. A President calling trade partners “sh*tholes,” paying porn stars for their silence, sexually harassing women while the wife is pregnant, supporting an alleged pedophile for Senate, suggesting an IQ measuring contest with his own Secretary of State, publicly trashing his own Attorney General for recusing himself as required by law, alleging a primary opponent’s father was involved with the JFK assassination, and comparing the size of his nuclear button with the leader of a hostile foreign power is not normal. These kinds of speech and actions should not be political, but because they are coming from the head of a political party, have been made political.
The party rank and file has absorbed some of these behavioral patterns, but they make others upset and resentful. A co-worker that is scared of discriminating actions by the federal government would feel oppressed by a co-worker that dismisses her fears. Calling them “snowflakes” will not resolve the problem.
Similarly, a white co-worker surrounded by co-workers who are outspoken and opposed to “white privilege” might also feel oppressed. In essence, a company that leans liberal is a hostile work environment for a conservative and a conservative leaning company would be a hostile work environment for a liberal. Ironically, this is only an issue in states like California, which prohibit political activity or affiliation discrimination.
The question becomes, how should a private company like Google manage resentment of politicized internet trolls with federal and state discrimination laws? First, there sometimes are actionable lawsuits by those whom we politically disagree with. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, not just non-white people. Comments that generalize white people and/or men should be scrutinized, not ignored or praised.
Second, Google should streamline and narrow the focus of its peer review system. Peer reviews can be valuable, since they encourage recognition of the contributions of others. However, they should be focused on the work that the company does, not activities outside the company’s work.
Third, Google should actually try to engage with some of the dissenting opinions. Although some of them are completely ignorant and insensitive, those are opportunities for education, not dismissal. Gudeman didn’t know that the Obama Administration was accused by the ACLU of profiling Muslims. Damore saw data that women often don’t negotiate with their employers for higher pay, but he attributed this to biological differences rather than social upbringing. Damore and Gudeman’s views are not advocating genocide; they can and should be debated with.
Is Google Liable For Discrimination?
Google’s defense to the hostile work environment claim is that Damore and Gudeman were creating a hostile work environment for their co-workers. As a private company, Google has no obligation to maintain free speech or to avoid viewpoint discrimination. The tricky part is that California prohibits political affiliation discrimination. Google would have to show that it didn’t discriminate against Damore and Gudeman based on their political views, but that they were constantly arguing and fighting with their co-workers.
Damore and Gudeman are unlikely to prevail on political discrimination as Google can argue they were terminated for non-political reasons. However, comments that generalize white men could lead to consequences if similar comments are found.