Last week one of the Google Walkout organizers, Claire Stapleton resigned from the company after facing continuous retaliation from the management. Last year in November, a global Google Walkout for Real Change was organized by Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker and six other employees at the company. It prompted 20,000 Google employees and contractors in 50 cities to walk off the job on November 1, 2018, to oppose the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.
Employees had put together a list of six demands for executives to address what they considered as rampant sexism and racism at the company. Google CEO, Sundar Pichai did agree to make one of the demanded policy changes, to make the workplace conditions stable. Google agreed to get rid of forced arbitration for their employees.
On Friday, Google Walkout for Real Change group published a letter on Medium which Stapleton had shared internally to her coworkers. The letter explained her reasons for quitting Google.
i left google and here's my goodbye note 💛 https://t.co/RP4jFzEu6B
— claire stapleton (@clairewaves) June 7, 2019
“These past few months have been unbearably stressful and confusing,” the post said. “But they’ve been eye-opening, too: the more I spoke up about what I was experiencing, the more I heard, and the more I understood how universal these issues are. That’s why I find it so depressing that leadership has chosen to just bluntly refute my story. They have a different version of what happened; that’s how this works.”
When the news broke of payouts to executives accused of sexual harassment, Stapleton was inspired to call for the walkout. And since then, Stapleton and other Google employees say supervisors have retaliated against them for speaking out. In the month of April this year they shared stories of retaliation they had been facing.
In April, 2 organizers of #GoogleWalkout, Meredith Whittaker & Claire Stapleton, came forward with stories of retaliation they’ve faced as a result of speaking out at the company. Claire left Google this week. Here’s the note she shared on her last day: https://t.co/RoPNIq70Uu
— Google Walkout For Real Change (@GoogleWalkout) June 7, 2019
According to The Guardian, Stapleton was a marketing manager who spent 12 years at Google and YouTube. She wrote in an email to coworkers announcing her departure “I made the choice after the heads of my department branded me with a kind of scarlet letter that makes it difficult to do my job or find another one. If I stayed, I didn’t just worry that there’d be more public flogging, shunning, and stress, I expected it.”
“The message that was sent [to others] was: ‘You’re going to compromise your career if you make the same choices that Claire made,” she told the Guardian by phone. “It was designed to have a chilling effect on employees who raise issues or speak out.”
Stapleton said she was demoted and asked to take medical leave, even though she wasn’t sick. Meredith Whittaker, said she was reassigned and told to stop her well-known research on AI ethics in her capacity as co-founder of AI Now Institute. Both women detailed their experiences in an email to coworkers in April, which was then shared with journalists at Wired.
“My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton wrote. “Only after I hired a lawyer and had her contact Google did management conduct an investigation and walked back my demotion, at least on paper. While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.”
Stapleton believes the treatment and the alleged attempt to push her out of the company were designed to dissuade other employees from taking similar actions.
In the Medium post, Stapleton says she was inspired and motivated by Google’s culture during her initial years, but after 2017, she saw the difference in culture and leadership. “Google’s always had controversies and internal debates, but the ‘hard things’ had intensified, and the way leadership was addressing them suddenly felt different, cagier, less satisfying,” she writes.
Google has denied the retaliation allegations, saying that any changes to positions were not retaliatory. Stapleton says in her post that the response from management to her story has been “depressing.”
“We thank Claire for her work at Google and wish her all the best,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “To reiterate, we don’t tolerate retaliation. Our employee relations team did a thorough investigation of her claims and found no evidence of retaliation. They found that Claire’s management team supported her contributions to our workplace, including awarding her their team Culture Award for her role in the Walkout.”
Meredith Whittaker said in a tweet that “Google’s trying to stop a movement. But that’s not how it works — badge or no, Claire isn’t going away, nor are the 1000s organizing across the company.”
.@clairewaves is a sister & a friend & truly wonderful human ♥️ By pushing her out, Google's trying to stop a movement. But that's not how it works — badge or no, Claire isn't going away, nor are the 1000s organizing across the company. 📣 Structural change IS coming to tech https://t.co/hy9pp12zOu
— Meredith Whittaker (@mer__edith) June 7, 2019
Stapleton said that despite her decision to leave the company, she was optimistic about the future of worker organizing at Google.
“I’ve paid a huge personal cost in a way that is not easy to ask anyone else to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of exhaustion and there’s a lot of fear, but I think that speaking up in whatever way people are comfortable with is having an absolutely tremendous impact.”
“It’s not going away,” she said.
Stapleton’s departure comes amid considerable turmoil for Google and YouTube, which are facing increased antitrust scrutiny from the US government. Google faces increasing criticism over inconsistent and controversial decisions related to content moderation, and growing activism from employees over issues including the company’s treatment of temps, vendors and contractors(TVCs) and choice of controversial projects to work on including Project Maven and Project Dragonfly.
An ex-Googler Vida Vakil who was present when the scandal broke at Google last year weighed in saying the head of HR (Eileen Naughton) defended her handling sexual harassment and paying out millions to the offender at the TGIF meeting by rationalising that things like that happen because it is in human nature.
That TGIF when the head of HR was commenting on her handling of sexual harassment and paying out millions to the offender, suggested that things like that happen because it is in human nature! I’ll never forget the booing, at her and later on at the joking founders!
— Vida Vakilotojar (@VidaVakil) June 7, 2019
Ex-Google employee advocate, Liz Fong-Jones, who quit Google earlier this year on ethical grounds, also tweeted that Google is systematically driving out people who care for the company, which is sad for the company.
— Liz Fong-Jones (方禮真) (@lizthegrey) June 7, 2019