Google Employees who helped organize the worldwide Google Walkout are now facing troubles for doing so. Per a report by Wired, roles of two Google employees, Claire Stapleton, YouTube Marketing Manager and Meredith Whittaker the head of Google’s Open Research were changed dramatically several months after the Walkout including calls to abandon AI ethics work, demotion, and more. Both employees posted about their retaliation in a letter shared internally with co-workers on Monday.
In November last year, 20,000 Google employees along with Temps, Vendors, and Contractors walked out to protest the discrimination, racism, and sexual harassment that they encountered at Google’s workplace. The Walkout was planned after The New York Times brought to light the shocking allegations against Andy Rubin’s (creator of Android) sexual misconduct at Google.
Meredith Whittaker leads Google’s Open Research Group and the Google Measurement Lab. She is also the co-founder of the AI Now Institute, and a renowned figure working to eliminate AI bias and discrimination and incorporate workplace diversity. In the letter, Meredith says, that after the announcement of Google disbanding it’s AI Ethics council, she was informed that to remain at the company she will have to abandon her work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute.
Claire Stapleton, another walkout organizer was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube. After escalating the issue to human resources, she said she faced further retaliation. “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 in the letter which was seen by Wired. Her demotion was only reversed after she hired a lawyer, and the company conducted an investigation. She adds, “While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.”
“More than 300 other employees have shared stories of retaliation since the walkout,” Ms. Stapleton and Ms. Whittaker wrote in their letter.
Google has a long history of retaliation, particularly to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities. The suffering that these people face include but not limited to icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, and demotions. Ms. Stapleton and Ms. Whittaker wrote in the letter, “On reading the 350 collected stories after the walkout, a sad pattern emerges: People who stand up and report discrimination, abuse, and unethical conduct are punished, sidelined, and pushed out. Perpetrators often go unimpeded or are even rewarded (Andy, Amit, “I reported, he got promoted”).”
They urge Google to end retaliation against the people who speak honestly about these problems in order to foster a culture free of discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making.
In regards to this, both women plan to host a Retaliation Town Hall to share their stories and strategize on Friday. They will also be live-streaming the meeting. The ladies also urge people to share their stories if they have been retaliated against.
Google put up another ignorant statement in response to this letter. A Google spokesperson told Wired, “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. There has been no retaliation here.”
It is worth noting that Googlers had a special place in Google’s S-1 filing made almost 16 years ago on April 29, 2004, which states:
“Our employees, who have named themselves Googlers, are everything. Google is organized around the ability to attract and leverage the talent of exceptional technologists and business people. We have been lucky to recruit many creative, principled and hard-working stars. We hope to recruit many more in the future. We will reward and treat them well.”
On Twitter, people blasted Google’s response.
What a laughable joke, read from another script. Sounds all too familiar. I heard those exact words so many times. They mean nothing.
— Vida Vakilotojar (@VidaVakil) April 22, 2019
— Mitchel Lewis👨🏻💻 (@stautistic) April 22, 2019
Multiple publications are now reporting on Google’s retaliation.
It makes one wonder, are they so afraid of employees standing up against harassment and discrimination that they are willing to burn $Billions in reputation? https://t.co/fosgeB6xzI
— Vanessa Harris 🐳 (@technologypoet) April 23, 2019
Retaliation means management, even at a behemoth like Google, is legitimately scared. These tactics are inexcusable, if unsurprising, but it's also a sign that the workers are winning https://t.co/p66KOV1cML
— Brian Merchant (@bcmerchant) April 22, 2019
I can’t see how it’s safe to work with @Google when they retaliate against those within who diagnose and proactively work on ethical challenges.
— Stuart Watt (@morungos) April 23, 2019
They have also spoken in solidarity with Ms. Stapleton and Ms. Whittaker and condemned Google saying the company only wants to mint money instead of taking care of its employees.
Let's all stand with the Google Walkout Organizers. The company and our digital lives are SO MUCH BETTER because of and with them, and the board should be ashamed of its blatant measures to oppress democratic dissent and retaliate against organizers.https://t.co/dencTQ8bi1
— Roel Dobbe (@roeldobbe) April 22, 2019
WTAF: @mer__edith told she would have to abandon her co-founding role at @AINowInstitute in retaliation for organizing walkout at Google. It’s almost as if Google doesn’t even want to be challenged to be a much more ethical company. https://t.co/4JI97P8xB7 via @nitashatiku
— David Carroll 🦅 (@profcarroll) April 22, 2019
Google had the opportunity to listen to its employees who walked out. Instead, it showed once again that it’s a giant corporation that only cares about $$$ https://t.co/7Xie5lIDse
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) April 22, 2019
We stand with the brave @GoogleWalkout organizers @mer__edith and @clairewaves. An attack against them is an attack against all workers who courageously demand their companies do the right thing. https://t.co/F1RAWLNknh
— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@AMZNforClimate) April 23, 2019
François Chollet, who heads Deep learning at Google and is the creator of Keras, neural networks library, also spoke in favor of Meredith.
I believe that her work is critical to Google's mission, as an AI-first company that is highly reliant on being fully trusted by a diverse user base of billions of people. Meredith's work is a net benefit for Google's users, for Google's products, and for Google as a company.
— François Chollet (@fchollet) April 23, 2019
Meredith Whittaker also took to Twitter to thank people for supporting her.
“Google’s retaliation isn’t about me, or Claire. It’s about silencing dissent & making us afraid to speak honestly about tech & power.”
I'm so grateful for your support. I remain staunchly committed to my work @AINowInstitute. Google's retaliation isn't about me, or @clairewaves. It's about silencing dissent & making us afraid to speak honestly about tech & power. NOT OK. Now more than ever, it's time to speak up
— Meredith Whittaker (@mer__edith) April 23, 2019