Last August, Google fired James Damore shortly after the engineer’s internal screed against affirmative action at the company went viral. Monday, Damore sued Google for illegally discriminating against whites, males, and conservatives, demonstrating that the company cannot rid itself of its controversy-courting former employee so easily.
Damore’s complaint includes 86 pages of screenshots from internal Google discussion forums, presented as evidence of alleged “anti-conservative” and “anti-Caucasian” bias, or Google’s alleged support for political violence (such as Nazi-punching). Immediately, the images became among the largest troves of internal Google discussions exposed to the public, including some images with the full names and profile pictures of Google employees, some of whom previously have been harassed for their opposition to the memo. Many are written with the earnest, unguarded candor of people who did not expect their words to travel outside of Google.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status, claiming that Google’s efforts to increase the gender and racial diversity of its workforce exclude white people, men, and conservatives. It also argues that Google employees with conservative views are shamed, blacklisted, and denied opportunities because they deviate from Google’s liberal orthodoxy.
There’s some irony in those claims. Google’s overall workforce is 69 percent male and 56 percent white, according to the company’s most recent diversity report. Google’s technical employees are 80 percent male and 53 percent white. Google’s leadership is 75 percent male and 68 percent white. The company is facing a Department of Labor investigation and a private lawsuit claiming that it discriminates against women in pay, and promotion.
The claims of political discrimination are not based on the First Amendment, which does not apply to private employers, but rather on a California law protecting political points of view. Damore’s lawyer, Harmeet Dhillon, claims to have won settlements in California based on discrimination against conservatives before, arguing that treating white, conservative men as a protected class “would not be a precedent, it would simply be an application of the law.”
In a statement to WIRED, a Google spokesperson said, “We look forward to defending against Mr. Damore’s lawsuit in court.” Regardless of the merits of the case, Google now faces increased scrutiny on not only its hiring practices.
At a Monday press conference in San Francisco, Dhillon, a prominent conservative who was considered for a position in the Trump administration, said “It is not fashionable and I’m sure it’s going to be sneered at today on Twitter,” but white male conservatives are treated unfairly in Silicon Valley. More than once, she asked conservatives who may have been denied a job at Google based on their beliefs to get in touch with her law firm. “People should not have to prove that they didn’t vote for the president to get a job at Google,” she said.
Dhillon noted that she is an immigrant and a woman, and said it was a legitimate goal for Google to try to have its workforce reflect the diversity of the country and its customers. But she said Google violated the law when it allegedly created quotas for hiring women and underrepresented minorities. Instead, she said Google should try job fairs or making the company more welcoming to women.
Dhillon said class could include women and people of color because it was divided into subclasses: white people, men, and conservatives, and Damore happened to embody all three. Dozens of people contacted the firm to express interest in joining the class, she said.
The images from Google’s internal discussion boards add another explosive element to an already charged case. The free-ranging discussions are highly valued inside Google, but until now, the they’ve remained inside the company. Some, including ones related to polyamory, seem unrelated to the case.
At her press conference, Dhillon said Google shareholders will be “pretty shocked to find” that employees are spending their time “talking about furry sex clubs and toxic whiteness,” rather than doing their jobs.
Dhillon also mentioned evidence of an employee wondering if Google should tweak its search results to reduce the prominence of studies that Damore cited in his memo. Dhillon said she didn’t know whether Google was actually doing this, but said employees openly discussed altering rankings to not display racist, white supremacist, anti-gay and anti-semitic content. “Don’t be surprised if they start steering you in a different direction,” Dhillon said.
Google fired Damore in August for “perpetuating gender stereotypes” after his screed against workplace diversity went viral outside the company. The 10-page missive argued that there are fewer women in technical and leadership roles at Google because of psychological differences between the sexes based on underlying biological differences. Damore cited contested science from evolutionary psychology to claim that women are less interested and suited to the tasks.
California is an “at-will” state, which gives Google broad leeway to fire Damore. However, Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in August before he was fired, which some lawyers say can prevent the suit from getting thrown out of court.
Damore himself said little at the press conference. He was asked about his memo’s emphasis on biology, but evaded the question. Google CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned Damore’s argument about biology in his note about why Damore was fired. According to a report in Recode, the group of executives that Pichai consulted before firing Damore was split until they considered how Damore’s contentions would have been received if they were based on race or religion.
Louise Matsakis contributed to this article.