Google employees faced retaliation for walkout

Google employees faced retaliation for walkout

Two women who helped to organise a global walkout of Google workers say that they have been demoted.

Last year, more than 20,000 full-time workers and contractors walked off their jobs in protest. Whittaker's and Stapleton's claims of retaliation have the same resonance; retaliation charges represented more than half of the 76,418 workplace discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2018.

According to an internal memo, the march drew support from CEO Sundar Pichai who issued a mandate to ensure that employees have the "support" they need. The 12-year Google veteran's demotion was reversed after she hired a lawyer, she said, but a hostile work environment makes her consider quitting every day. "While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting almost every day", she wrote.

Whittaker, who leads Google's Open Research, said she was informed that her role would be "changed dramatically" after Google disbanded its external AI ethics council earlier this month.

Some 20,000 Googlers had protested a year ago against the Internet giant's handling of sexual harassment and, more broadly, its workplace policies around equity and transparency.

On Monday, the two Google employees sent out an internal letter detailing the ways management has allegedly retaliated against multiple employee organizers, Wired reported. It's often confusing and drawn out, consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions.

In response, Google said in a statement that retaliation is prohibited at the company, and that the situations with Whittaker and Stapleton were not examples of retaliation.

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"We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and investigate all allegations".

"Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganized, to keep pace with evolving business needs", she said in an email. "There has been no retaliation here".

Whittaker and Stapleton are planning a "town hall" meeting on Friday for employees to share stories and strategize, the person confirmed. "This tells me that behind the mask of playfulness and positivity, Google is just another ruthless business", said Amr Gaber, a Google engineer. "Meredith [.] has been a real pioneer & thought leader on AI ethics, especially when it comes to ML bias, diversity, & inclusion", François Chollet, a leading deep-learning expert at Google, wrote on Twitter.

"If we want to stop discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making, we need to end retaliation against the people who speak honestly about these problems", the organizers wrote.

The women collected 350 stories during the Walkout and the pattern that emerged is one of retaliation, in the form of being punished, sidelined or pushed out, if an employee stands up and reports discrimination, according to the letter that was first published by Wired. Gizmodo has reached out for further comment from Google, and we'll update if we hear back.

Their email adds: "Our stories aren't the only ones".

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