UK Markets close in 6 hrs 35 mins

Female Google employees say they faced internal retaliation after mass walkout

Hasan Chowdhury
Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton claim to have faced demotion after protesting Google's handling of sexual harassment claims - AP

Two female Google employees claim to have faced retaliation from the search giant after leading a mass walkout last year that sought to criticise its handling of sexual harassment claims.

Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, who organised the walkout of 20,000 employees across 50 cities last November, alleged in an internally shared email that they would have their roles “changed dramatically” and face demotion following their activism.

Ms Stapleton, who currently works in the marketing division of YouTube, claimed that she started to be ignored by her manager, and was told to go on medical leave after the protest, despite not being sick.

“I was told that I would be demoted, that I’d lose half my reports, and that a project that was approved was no longer on the table,” said Ms Stapleton, who has worked at the company for 12 years.

She added that Google “walked back” her demotion only after hiring a lawyer to contact the Silicon Valley firm.

Ms Whittaker, an artificial intelligence researcher who leads Google’s Open Research Group, claimed in the letter that she would have to abandon her work on AI ethics in order to remain at the company.

The marches in November were triggered after it was reported that Android developer Andy Rubin was paid $90m (£70m) in hush money to leave the company after being accused of sexual assault. Mr Rubin has denied the allegations.

In the email, it was claimed that a number of employees at Google have faced similar treatment in response to raised concerns.

Ms Stapleton claimed that 350 stories were collected from the walkout last year, which highlighted that “people who stand up and report discrimination, abuse, and unethical conduct are punished, sidelined and pushed out”.

The employees alleged that Google has a culture of retaliation that “too often works to silence women, people of colour, and gender minorities”. It will be hosting a town hall on Friday for Google workers to speak out against alleged push-back from the firm.

In response to the allegations made by Ms Stapleton and Ms Whittaker, a Google spokesperson said: “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace, and investigate all allegations.

"Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganised, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here."

In a bid to address the concerns raised in last year’s protests, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai wrote in a memo that the company would provide “more transparency” on how it handles concerns.

“We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace,” he said.