Google Fires Employee Who Wrote Memo In Defense Of Gender Stereotypes

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
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In a case making headlines globally, Google engineer James Damore who wrote and distributed the now infamous memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” was fired by the Silicon Valley tech giant on Monday. .

The Memo

Parts of the ten-page memo, which was subtitled, “How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion”, argue that the reason women are underrepresented in the tech industry has to do with “biological causes” between men and women.

The memo states “The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and … these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,”

Damore references a number of gender stereotypes to illustrate why women may not have as large a leadership role as men in the tech industry, including “Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average.” The memo went on to criticize Google’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as those encouraging employees to take part in classes on “unconscious bias.”

The memo was made available to Google employees on Friday August 4. Damore was fired on Monday August 7 after the memo leaked, was widely shared and became a topic of conversation, debate, and widespread outrage. He had been at Google since 2013.

In a company-wide email entitled “Our Words Matter”, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, said Damore was fired because parts of the memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Mr. Pichai stated that he supports the right of employees to express themselves, but that the memo had gone too far. He further stated:

The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender…[o]ur co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic.’

Reaction to the firing

Damore’s firing took some by surprise, and has been the subject of fiery debate on Twitter, and newspapers and other sources worldwide. As the New York Times wrote, “The memo put the company in a bind. On one hand, Google has long promoted a culture of openness, with employees allowed to question senior executives and even mock its strategy in internal forums. However, Google, like many other technology firms, is dealing with criticism that it has not done enough to hire and promote women and minorities.”

Sensitivity around women in tech

The treatment of women in the tech workspace is a topic of much discussion as of late. A member of Uber’s board of directors resigned in June, citing sexist comments at meetings. The US Department of Justice is currently investigating whether Google unlawfully pays women less than men.

The Former Employee

Earlier this week, Damore was interviewed by Bloomberg news. During the eight minute interview, he defended his actions saying that he “loved Google”, but that “problems” with the company’s culture had prompted him to write the memo.

In the interview, Damore claims that the memo had been a work in progress, and that he had shared it with a number of other “Googlers” as well as members of diversity initiatives within the company, and had gotten no negative feedback. He argues that it was only after the memo went viral that upper management began to “shame him” and eventually fired him.

Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, claiming that he was subjected to “coercive statements by Google. He has said he is also considering pursuing possible legal remedies. In an e-mail reported by the New York Times, he stated:

I have a right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behaviour, which is what my document does.

Since then, Damore continues to stir the pot, most recently publicly mocking Google by changing his Twitter picture to a photo of him wearing a t-shirt with the company’s well-recognized logo amended to read “Goolag”- an apparent reference to the infamous former Soviet work camps of Stalin’s era.

The firing has become a topic of debate in the media and in conversation, as people discuss how far is too far in speaking your mind in the workplace. It will be interesting to see how this high-profile termination plays out. We will continue to follow developments in this matter, and will be sure to post any updates to the story on our blog as more information becomes available.

Termination is stressful, and can oftentimes be complicated, even when it is not being splashed all over the media. If you feel you may have been wrongfully dismissed, contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We can help you determine whether you may have a claim for wrongful dismissal. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation.