A security camera is mounted near Google. Picture: BLOOMBERG
A security camera is mounted near Google. Picture: BLOOMBERG

San Francisco — The engineer who was fired by Google after he criticised its diversity policies claims in a lawsuit that he and others at the internet giant were harassed over their conservative political views.

James Damore filed a class-action complaint on Monday after setting off a firestorm in August with a 10-page memo blasting Google’s "left bias" for creating a "politically correct monoculture".

He alleged that the presence of women is celebrated because of their gender and that white men were mocked with boos at company-wide meetings.

"Google’s open hostility for conservative thought is paired with invidious discrimination on the basis of race and gender, barred by law," according to the filing in state court in San Jose, California.

"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 at Google."

Damore’s lawyer is Harmeet Dhillon, a civil rights lawyer who has taken on cases that push back against the Bay Area’s progressive tendencies.

She was on President Donald Trump’s short list to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in March, before the president ended up nominating a different attorney, according to press reports.

"We look forward to defending against Mr Damore’s lawsuit in court," Google said in a statement.

People shouldn’t have to prove that they didn’t vote for the president to get a job at Google

Another plaintiff

Another former Google employee named as a plaintiff is David Gudeman, who says he was an engineer for three years until he was wrongfully terminated in December 2016.

The two men claim they were "ostracised, belittled and punished for their heterodox political views, and for the added sin of their birth circumstances of being Caucasians and/or males".

The imbroglio at Google is the latest in a long string of incidents concerning gender bias and diversity in the tech enclave. Travis Kalanick lost his job as Uber Technologies CEO in June amid scandals over sexual harassment, discrimination and an aggressive culture.

Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which went to trial in 2015, also brought the issue to light, and more women have spoken out recently to say they have been sexually harassed in the male-dominated industry.

Women at Google, Uber, Twitter and Microsoft are seeking class-action status in lawsuits accusing those companies of favouring men for promotions in engineering roles.

Damore’s memorandum argued that biological differences play a role in the shortage of women in tech and leadership positions. It circulated widely inside the company and became public over the first weekend in August, causing a furore that amplified the pressure on Google executives to take a more definitive stand.

Google said it fired Damore for violating the company code of conduct and advancing "harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace".

Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that his employer interfered with his right to engage in protected activities.

Uphill battle

Some legal experts have said Damore faces an uphill battle suing Google. Unlike government employees, who have some free speech protections, private employees in the US have little legal recourse if companies choose to retaliate for things they say at work or at home.

The firing has placed the company at the centre of a maelstrom of political controversy. At least one US congressman and numerous commentators, some representing the far right, have blasted the company’s decision, accusing it of suppressing free speech.

Damore has said Google executives "shamed" him for the views expressed in the memo. Google has denied Damore’s allegation that its hiring practices are illegal.

After the controversy swelled, Danielle Brown, Google’s recently appointed vice-president for diversity, integrity and governance, sent a statement to staff condemning Damore’s views and reaffirmed the company’s stance on diversity.

In internal discussion boards, multiple employees said they supported firing the author, and some said they would not choose to work with him, according to postings viewed by Bloomberg News.

"We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company," Brown said in the statement. "We’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul."

The debate comes as Google is fighting claims by the US Department of Labor that it systemically discriminates against women. Google has denied the allegations, arguing that it does not have a gender gap in pay. According to the company’s most recent demographic report, 69% of its workforce and 80% of its technical staff are male. The data shows that 56% of Google’s workforce and 53% of its technical staff are white.

Damore, who remains unemployed since his termination, claims Google’s decision to fire him ultimately centred on the company’s history of discrimination against conservative ideologies.

Dhillon, a Republican National Committee committeewoman from California, says the class of plaintiffs includes "dozens" of Google employees and would-be employees shunned because of their political beliefs, including supporting Trump.

"People shouldn’t have to prove that they didn’t vote for the president to get a job at Google," she told reporters during a press conference in her office on Monday.