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Science & Technology

Ex-Google Engineer Files Suit, Saying He Was Retaliated Against


Here's a court case illustrating some of the tensions of our time. A former Google engineer filed a lawsuit against the company saying he's a victim of workplace discrimination and retaliation. He says Google discriminates against conservative white men. Here's NPR's Laura Sydell.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Last year, an engineer at Google named James Damore wrote a long criticism to Google's HR team about the company's diversity program. In it, he cited studies that he said suggests that biology rather than discrimination is the reason there are fewer women engineers at Google. When his essay found its way to the public, there was a storm on social media. Ultimately, Google fired Damore. Harmeet Dhillon, Damore's attorney, says Damore was encouraged at Google to share his opinion, and he shouldn't have been fired for it.

HARMEET DHILLON: They had this vague, gestalt response, saying he perpetuated gender stereotypes. Well, Google perpetuates negative gender stereotypes about men every day.

SYDELL: The case was filed in California's Superior Court. Dhillon says in California it's illegal to discriminate against someone because of their political opinion. Damore is joined in the suit by other employees who Dhillon says were fired because of their political opinions.

DHILLON: It's equally offensive to me to hear that white people should get rid of their toxic whiteness at Google. That's offensive. But nobody gets fired for saying that.

SYDELL: Google did not respond to requests for comment. However, when Damore was fired, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai said that Google employees can express themselves, but that doesn't mean that anything goes. Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford, says what the case is likely to pivot on is whether the comments of Damore, and the others bringing the lawsuit, made it a hostile work environment. She says women and minorities have special protections under the law.

DEBORAH RHODE: There's also a whole line of cases on what creates a hostile environment, and verbal conduct can do that.

SYDELL: Ironically, Google is facing this suit while at the same time it's fighting claims that it has systematically underpaid women. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.