Google is getting it from both sides of the ever more contentious debate over gender inequity in Silicon Valley — on one side for taking decisive action against what the search giant deemed sexist language by a staffer and on the other for allegations that it pays women less than men.
First, James Damore — the software engineer Google fired yesterday for penning a controversial memo about biological reasons why women did not succeed in tech compared to men. He appears to have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the search giant retaliated against him unfairly.
Damore was let go as the result of a piece he posted on Google message boards last week that posited, among other things, that women were not biologically suited to do tech and that the company had a left-leaning bias that prevented contrary discussions.
Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” Damore started off with a benign tone:
“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can't have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.”
But then, he went on in detail and way off the rails for Google: “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
What followed was a list of those differences, including a claim that women were more social and artistic and could not take the stress of high-pressure jobs. Hence, he wrote that women suffered more than men from “neuroticism,” or higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance.
Google execs took days to respond, but soon several top execs weighed in decrying Damore’s memo. Finally, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote a memo to staff, with a clear message:
“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects ‘each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.’”
Damore was then fired for violating those internal company rules. He later told the New York Times that he had filed with the NLRB over the dismissal:
“Before being fired, Mr. Damore said, he had submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Google’s upper management was ‘misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.’ He added that it was ‘illegal to retaliate’ against an N.L.R.B. charge.”
Sources not authorized to speak at Google said the company only learned of the action via the media report and not before it fired him.
And, indeed, the actual complaint was only filed today — alleging “Coercive Statements (Threats, Promises of Benefits, etc.)” by a Los Angeles-based law firm, Paul Hastings. There is a letter attached that is not available as yet.
I called the Paul Hastings lawyer listed to obtain a copy of the letter and also for comment, but have gotten no reply as yet.
Meanwhile, a San Francisco law firm has been advertising on Facebook and online since mid-July, seeking female employees of the company to join what appears to be a class-action lawsuit over gender pay gaps at the company.
The Equal Pay for Google Women ad was posted by Altshuler Berzon LLP and James M. Finberg. It noted:
You might be a victim of discrimination if you:
— Currently work at Google; or
— Worked at Google within the last 3 years.
— You work or worked for Google in California.
— You work or worked in an Information Technology, Product Development, Programmer or Technology Support position.
Finberg confirmed the firm was looking into filing a case against Google and had already been contacted by 70 women.
“We are looking into the evidence,” he said in an interview. “And we think there is a factual basis for the claims that women were paid less than men for the same work at Google.”
Along with all the lawyers attacking Google, the federal government and the company are engaged in an ongoing legal battle. The Labor Department has alleged that Google has a gender gap in pay, a charge the company has denied.
Google has also declined to provide some information asked for by the government, although it has handed over 329,000 documents, including detailed compensation information. But it refused to give the Labor Department contact information from 25,000 employees and more than 15 years of compensation records, claiming it was a risk to privacy.
A judge recently agreed with Google, noting the government demands were “over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome and insufficiently focused on obtaining the relevant information.”
But Google, like many tech companies, most definitely has an issue with diversity, as evidenced by recent employee statistics: Men make up almost 70 percent of the staff and a full 80 percent of the technical employees.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.