A moral crisis at Google
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Google is facing a worldwide staff rebellion over its handling of sexual harassment cases, said Daisuke Wakabayashi at The New York Times. Holding signs such as "Don't be evil, protect victims," 20,000 of the tech giant's 85,000 employees around the globe protested the company's mishandling of charges against senior executives. In one instance, Google paid $90 million to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android operating system, who the company determined had been credibly accused of coercing an employee into sex. Rubin denies the charges. By paying executives multimillion-dollar exit packages, Google "avoided messy and costly legal fights, and kept them from working for rivals." Sometimes, Google took no action at all: Richard DeVaul, a director at Google X, the company's research-and-development arm, told a job candidate he was "polyamorous" and invited her to the Burning Man festival, where he subjected her to inappropriate advances. The woman did not get the job, and DeVaul was not punished. He has since resigned. "Each time, Google stayed silent about the accusations against the men." In its defense, Google said it fired 48 employees for harassment over the past two years without exit packages. The company apologized to workers, promising to create a "safe and inclusive" environment.
"The protests reflect a deepening moral crisis within Google," said Alexia Fernández Campbell at Vox. In April, 3,000 employees protested the company's contract with the Pentagon to analyze drone footage that could be used to identify human targets. Google let the contract expire and said it wouldn't pursue technology that could "harm others or cause human suffering." Yet a few months later, an investigation by The Intercept revealed that Google was working with China's authoritarian government on a censored search engine. Another 1,400 employees signed a letter objecting to the "Dragonfly" project. Google downplayed the China plan and later floated the idea of bidding on another major U.S. government contract. Employees now question if Google has lost its way "in the corporate pursuit to enrich shareholders."
What Google does about harassment can set a precedent for how other major companies deal with the issue, said Shirin Ghaffary at Recode. Accepting the protesters' demand that Google eliminate mandatory arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases would force others to follow. But the protest is really about more than demanding workplace changes at Google, said Noah Feldman at Bloomberg. This was more like the national student walkout to support gun control than a traditional protest against an employer. Google's employees knew they'd get coverage in news media worldwide and that their "cultural prestige put significant weight into their protest." In effect, they forced management to back their "public, collective stand in the broader conversation about sexual harassment." Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, even "promised his employees 'the support you need' in connection with the walkout." In the future, you'll see employees at more big companies taking public positions on national or international issues — and insisting that management join them.