- A Google engineer who penned a viral 10-page internal document arguing against the merits of the company's diversity initiatives — at one point accusing the company of "creat[ing] a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence" — has been fired, multiple outlets report.
- The employee, identified by Bloomberg as James Damore, confirmed to the outlet that he had been fired for "perpetuating gender stereotypes." Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that parts of Damore's writing "violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace" in a statement Monday, according to Bloomberg.
- The document and subsequent imbroglio have caused massive internal debate among Google's workforce, with one anonymous Google source calling the situation "really toxic," Recode reports. Damore confirmed to Bloomberg that he is exploring legal options in response to the firing.
What does it mean to say that an employer has a 'zero tolerance policy' when addressing controversy around what may be perceived by a large group of employees (and the larger, general public) as overt bias against a segment of the population?
This question is alarmingly complicated, and the answer will have repercussions for the entire tech industry — not just Google. Yes, the industry is no stranger to scandal in the face of ill treatment and clear examples of bias (or worse) against women and minority employees (read: the Uber saga). Companies across the spectrum of industries suffer from a critical lack of women in leadership positions that, if righted, might prevent such problems in the first place.
But lurking in the background of the progress made by diversity advocates, and the improvements for which they've fought, is a much larger societal, political and even legal divide over the question of what constitutes open debate and discussion within organizations. If this sounds bigger than HR, that's because it is. And it's much more transcendent than James Damore's so-called "manifesto."
In late 2016, a similar scenario developed at food delivery service Grubhub, where a letter from CEO Matt Maloney appeared to single out employees who voted for then-President-elect Donald Trump. In that letter, Maloney told workers the company wouldn't tolerate "nationalist, anti-immigrant" speech, going as far to say that those who disagreed should resign. The note drew controversy because it appeared to discriminate against workers for their political views (which often is legal).
Damore's text is admittedly different from any verbal affiliation with a particular political candidate, and the fact that it seems to have caused clear distress among Google workers may be reason enough for the resulting termination. The optics are undoubtedly bad for Google and Alphabet Inc. But the much larger question of which views are tolerable should weigh heavy on the minds of HR leaders.
It's also one thing to take direct action against employees who have clearly violated company policy against sexual harassment or other forms of bullying and discrimination, and another to preemptively ask for resignations due to idelogical differences. Another thought: would Damore's concerns have been addressed differently had he taken them to a manager, or HR representative, instead of posting them on the company's internal forum?
Either way, one important rule for HR is consistency; all policies should align with organizational standards and values. Moreover, those standards and values should be clearly communicated to employees at all levels via management through training sessions, resource groups and other outreach.
Employers also must ensure that all actions comply with federal, state and local employment laws. Damore has promised legal action, and while some experts say he has no case, others are arguing that his termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because he believed he was opposing a discriminatory employment practice. Others say it raises National Labor Relations Act issues, because he was advocating for better working conditions and that it may implicate California law, which provides protection for some political actives.