Experts weigh in on James Damore seeking a class action suit against Google; “his odds are terrible”
Fired Google memo bro isn’t going away quietly.
James Damore made headlines last summer when he was terminated by the search giant after writing an infamous screed arguing that women were underrepresented in the STEM fields due to “neuroticism” and biology. The firing made Damore a sort of free speech hero to the alt-right and this week, his attorney filed suit against Google claiming it created a hostile workplace and “ostracized, belittled and punished” him and other colleagues with conservative views. The law suit, which seeks class action status, also alleges that Google practices “invidious discrimination” to the detriment of Caucasian men by attempting to hire more women and people of color.
News of the lawsuit was greeted with much derision online, with former Pinterest engineer and diversity advocate Tracy Chou’s reaction being typical of the mood.
the white men have it real tough in tech these days
— Tracy Chou 👩🏻💻 (@triketora) January 8, 2018
But that belies another question: does Damore’s lawsuit have a chance of succeeding?
At least one labor lawyer doesn’t think so. “I think his odds are terrible,” says AJ Bhowmik, managing partner at Blumenthal Nordrehaug & Bhowmik in San Diego, Calif. “The judge will absolutely consider the facts. We’re moving in an upside down world where an individual can claim discrimination for being a white male,” a demographic overrepresented at Google.
Indeed, the facts show that women are well in the minority at Google, just like at most tech companies. Females comprised just 36% of all tech Google employees as of 2017, a figure that rises to 48% only when you add in non-tech staff, according to data the company filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Meanwhile, whites make up 56% of all Googlers. Seven of the 12 members on the board of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. are white men; males of South Asian descent take up a further two seats.
Anger can actually be "rational" because it signals your commitment to aggression, causing your opponent to back down (e.g., in the game of chicken).
— James Damore (@JamesADamore) November 14, 2017
Furthermore, Google fired Damore due to his views and not his race. While shutting down employee speech may harm Google’s image among tech libertarians, the law gives it every right to do so. That’s because California is so-called “at-will” state, in which employees can be dismissed for any reason. “I don’t think it matters that the individual was a man or white. What matters if that he’s expressing a viewpoint abhorrent to society,” says Bhowmik. “In the private workplace, you don’t have the same first amendment protections [as you do vis-a-vis the government.] It’s a classic tactic of white supremacists to conflate the two.” Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, had previously said Damore’s memo violated the company’s code of conduct by advancing harmful gender stereotypes.
Google says it looks forward to defending itself in court. That said, some experts think that it could be tempted to settle, as many workplace disputes are. “I think Google has a good chance of fighting it before it goes too far,” Bhowmik says. “While a settlement could happen, I would be shocked if it happened on a class-wide basis.”
Still, the lawsuit could have further reverberations on Google’s culture. “People are going to question who they can trust” with their thoughts, says Susan Strauss, a Minneapolis-based HR professional. “There might be some second guessing as to whether their advertising for new hires is what it should be. Are they going too far in terms of quotas? This guy is raising ire.”
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