SAN FRANCISCO — James Damore, the Google engineer fired after he penned a memo suggesting women were less biologically capable of software engineering, has filed a lawsuit charging the company discriminates against white, conservative men.
The suit also includes David Gudeman, a former Google engineer who left the company in 2016. They hope to create a class action suit against the company.
The suit charges that Google’s management “goes to extreme—and illegal—lengths to encourage hiring managers to take protected categories such as race and/or gender into consideration as determinative hiring factors, to the detriment of Caucasian and male employees and potential employees.”
Damore sparked an uproar on an internal company discussion board in August when he posted a 10-page memo, "Google Ideological Echo Chamber" criticizing Google’s diversity efforts.
The “manifesto,” as many have called it, listed multiple reasons why the author believed Google’s efforts to increase the number of women in technical fields was unworkable, including his claims that women are more interested in people than ideas.
Damore's memo and subsequent firing made him the hero of a resurgent conservative movement, whose dispersed, Internet-savvy leaders accuse big tech companies of quashing viewpoints at odds with Silicon Valley's generally liberal bent. The viral nature of Damore's memo, and his swift ascendance into the national spotlight after his firing, gave attention to complaints by some tech workers that the industry's recent efforts to hire more women, African-Americans and Latinos is a form of discrimination against white men.
According to its most recent workforce numbers, released this summer, 69% of Google employees are male and 59% are white. Google has said it wants to change that make-up. Google has said that it can do its best work, and create products that are most useful and profitable to the world, by creating a workforce that looks like the world around it.
To aid that, the company has launched multiple programs to create a more welcoming workplace for women and minorities, to mentor them and to encourage more to apply. That includes an effort to help staff overcome unconscious bias.
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The case was filed Monday in in Santa Clara Superior Court in Northern California. Damore and Gudeman are represented by Harmeet Dhillon, the Republican National Committee’s committeewoman for California.
Last year her law firm filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the University of California at Berkeley for violating the free speech rights of the Young America's Foundation and Berkeley College Republicans, when the school cancelled a talk by controversial conservative speaker Ann Coulter over security concerns.
In a news conference at Dhillon’s law firm in San Francisco on Monday, Damore said that employees at Google were “brainwashed.”
“I really think it’s hurting a lot of employees and it's hurting Google itself by harassing and making people feel alienated so they’re not really reaching their full potential,” he said.
Dhillon said the goal of the suit in part was to get tech companies to wake up and realize their behavior is discriminatory.
“This is not about money, this is about changing the behavior and the attitudes in Silicon Valley," she said.
“In the gender category, it is only men who are being discriminated against,” Dhillon said. Currently in tech companies "it’s okay to disparage, smear, belittle or discriminate against conservatives and white men. That’s not acceptable.”
In a statement, Google said it looked forward to defending against Damore's lawsuit in court.
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The suit will be a difficult one to win, said one labor and employment attorney.
First, while employees have the right to engage in politice activities and speech outside of work, Damore used Google’s internal online bulletin boards and email lists to disseminate his views.
Employees don’t have the right to political speech within the workplace or the right to disrupt work to make their points.
“His post was very disruptive to Google, the CEO even had to fly back from abroad to deal with the fall out from it,” said Jim Evans, a partner in the labor and employment practice at the law firm of Alston & Bird in Los Angeles.
"Google terminated him for violating its lawful workplace policies," said Evans. "That’s about all Google has to show."
It’s also difficult to make the argument that Google discriminates against white men, given the gender and racial breakdown of its workforce.
Dhillon aim is to get the suit certified as a class action lawsuit. However employment, law experts said that could be difficult because it would require proving a reverse discrimination claim.
That in turn would require looking at each plaintiff and showing discrimination against them because they were white, male or conservative.
The company could have “very legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for which white men might not be hired,” said Jason Geller, a managing partner at the law firm of Fisher Philips, where he represents management in labor and employment cases.
“She would have to look at all the hiring decisions and find clear evidence that the company was illegally hiring underqualified women over hiring men,” he said.
In August Damore also filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint against the company over his firing.
Google is separately being sued by female staffers who say they are being systematically underpaid.
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