You’ve heard the story. A Google software engineer recently made headlines by sending out a 10-page memo to other employees decrying the company’s left-leaning bias and perpetuation of gender stereotypes as Google attempts to bring more women into tech and leadership roles. He argued that the company, a unit of Alphabet Inc., is hostile to conservative viewpoints and argued that the lack of women in leadership positions likely reflects biological differences instead of discrimination.
It was a bombshell, and the software engineer has been fired. According to Reuters, who received an email from the man, he is looking into his legal options. Does he have a case?
As with many interesting questions, the answer isn’t 100-percent clear. In his email to Google, he suggested that his termination may have been in retaliation for having filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint shortly beforehand. That complaint apparently came after the memo, as it claimed that Google’s management was trying to suppress his views.
The retaliation claim may be iffy, however, according to legal sources contacted by Reuters. It’s true that complaints to the NLRB are protected from retaliation, but those generally involve “concerted activity” meant to organize workers. Moreover, the memo itself contained no specific examples of unlawful behavior by Google.
Google is located in California, which has a law that protects political speech by employees. However, legal sources pointed out that an internal memo blasting Google’s policies would likely not qualify as the kind of political speech the law protects.
In reality, Google probably had to fire the memo writer in order to protect itself
“If an employer is met with someone making statements that unabashedly stereotype based on gender and the employer doesn’t respond, the employer may be sued by others who say that discriminatory conduct creates a harassing atmosphere,” said one labor lawyer interviewed by Reuters.
If Google, after knowing of this man’s views, had kept him on, the company could have exposed itself to gender discrimination and hostile work environment lawsuits. The memo could be used as an example of hostile behavior toward women. The memo could also indicate the man was unable to accurately assess his female colleagues’ work.
Does all that mean the memo writer has no claim?
Not necessarily. Considering how volatile the issues in the memo have turned out to be, Google may worry that continued news coverage creates a negative impression of the company. It may want to end the controversy.
If so, the memo writer has some leverage toward a settlement. Even if his claims would ultimately fail in court, Google may decide simply to settle with the man and get the story out of the news.