Legal experts: Fired engineer faces headwinds making case he is victim
The engineer fired by Google after he blasted the company’s diversity policies can try to argue he was unfairly dismissed, but legal experts say he may not get far in court.
James Damore on Monday said he was “exploring all possible legal remedies” after the internet giant terminated him over his 3,000-word manifesto blasting Google’s “left bias” for creating a “politically correct monoculture” that ignores differences between the sexes.
Damore told The Associated Press he considers his firing illegal because he had already filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
The board declined to comment.
But unlike government employees, who have some free speech protections, private employees in the U.S. have little legal recourse if companies choose to retaliate for things they say at work or at home. In fact, most non-union private sector employees can be fired for almost any reason — or no reason at all.
“Any claim that (Damore) brings will have only a negligible chance at success,” said law professor Paul Secunda, who directs the labor and employment law program at Marquette University.
What’s more, firing Damore may have kept Google on the right side of the law, if the company or its employees felt that the memo had created a work environment that was hostile to women.
Adam Galinsky, chair of management at Columbia Business School, said companies may have a legitimate reason for firing someone for expressing views that disrupt the professional environment.
“I think that the firing was the appropriate response here,” Galinsky said. “I think if they didn’t fire the employee, it would have created a lot of internal unrest among the women who work at Google.”
In his defense, Damore could claim under the Civil Rights Act that he was fired for being male or for speaking out against antimale discrimination, but Google could counter that it actually fired him for the attitudes he expressed about women, which aren’t protected.
“He would have to show that if a woman had made similar comments about women’s superiority for jobs, that woman in a similar situation would not have been terminated,” said Shannon Farmer, a partner at Ballard Spahr who represents employers. “That’s probably a hard thing to prove.”
On Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a note to employees that said portions of Damore’s memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” He didn’t say whether the company was taking action against the employee.
In his missive, Damore argued that biological differences play a role in the shortage of women in tech and leadership positions. It circulated widely inside the company and became public over the weekend.