Google fir­ing is jus­ti­fied, ex­perts say

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - BAR­BARA OR­TU­TAY

NEW YORK — The Google en­gi­neer who blamed bi­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences for the paucity of women in tech had ev­ery right to ex­press his views. And Google likely had ev­ery right to fire him, work­place ex­perts and lawyers say.

Spe­cial cir­cum­stances — from the coun­try’s di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal cli­mate to Sil­i­con Val­ley’s broader prob­lem with gen­der eq­uity — con­trib­uted to the anger and sub­se­quent fir­ing. But the fall­out should still serve as a warn­ing to any­one in any in­dus­try ex­press­ing un­pop­u­lar, fiery view­points.

“Any­one who makes a state­ment like this and ex­pects to stick around … is fool­ish,” said David Lewis, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Op­er­a­tions Inc., a hu­man­re­sources con­sult­ing firm.

The en­gi­neer, James Damore, wrote a memo crit­i­ciz­ing Google for push­ing men-

tor­ing and di­ver­sity pro­grams and for “alien­at­ing con­ser­va­tives.” The parts that drew the most anger made such as­ser­tions as women “pre­fer jobs in so­cial and artis­tic ar­eas” and have a “lower stress tol­er­ance” and “harder time” lead­ing, while more men “may like cod­ing be­cause it re­quires sys­tem­iz­ing.”

Google’s code of con­duct says work­ers “are ex­pected to do their ut­most to cre­ate a work­place cul­ture that is free of ha­rass­ment, in­tim­i­da­tion, bias, and un­law­ful dis­crim­i­na­tion.” Google’s CEO, Sun­dar Pic­ahi, said Damore vi­o­lated this code.

Yonatan Zunger, who re­cently

left Google as a se­nior en­gi­neer, wrote in a post on the Medium web­site that he would have had no choice but to fire Damore had he been his su­per­vi­sor.

“Do you un­der­stand that at this point, I could not in good con­science as­sign any­one to work with you?” he wrote. “I cer­tainly couldn’t as­sign any women to deal with this, a good num­ber of the peo­ple you might have to work with may sim­ply punch you in the face.”

Though one might ar­gue for a right to free speech, how­ever un­pop­u­lar, such pro­tec­tions are gen­er­ally lim­ited to gov­ern­ment and other pub­lic em­ploy­ees — and to union­ized work­ers with rights to dis­ci­plinary hear­ings be­fore any fir­ing.

Broader pro­tec­tions are

granted to com­ments about work­place con­di­tions. Damore ar­gues in a fed­eral la­bor com­plaint that this ap­plies to his case, but ex­perts dis­agree.

“By post­ing that memo, he for­feited his job,” said Jen­nifer Lee Ma­gas, pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sor at Pace Uni­ver­sity and a for­mer em­ploy­ment law at­tor­ney. “He was fired for his words, but also for be­ing daft enough to post these thoughts on an open work­place fo­rum, where he was sure to be met with back­lash and to of­fend his col­leagues — male and fe­male alike.”

Blamed for years for not hir­ing enough women and mem­bers of mi­nor­ity groups — and not wel­com­ing them once they are hired — tech com­pa­nies such as Google, Face­book and Uber have promised big changes.

These have in­cluded di­ver­sity and men­tor­ing pro­grams and cod­ing classes for groups un­der­rep­re­sented among the com­pa­nies’ tech­ni­cal and lead­er­ship staff. Many tech com­pa­nies also pledge to in­ter­view, though not nec­es­sar­ily hire, mi­nor­ity-group can­di­dates.

These are the sorts of things Damore’s memo railed against.

As such, ex­perts say Damore might not have been fired at a com­pany that doesn’t have such a clear mes­sage on di­ver­sity.

In ad­di­tion, had Damore worked for a smaller, lesser­known com­pany, an in­ter­nal memo might not have cre­ated such a “me­dia storm,” said Aimee De­laney, a Hin­shaw & Cul­bert­son at­tor­ney who rep­re­sents com­pa­nies on la­bor mat­ters.

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