Former Google software engineer James Damore has sued the tech giant in what promises to be a fascinating case, if the suit makes it to the courtroom.
Damore and another former Google engineer Dave Gudeman filed a class action suit against Google on Monday in the Santa Clara Superior Court. They allege that Google discriminates against white men who hold conservative views.
Damore, you may recall, was the formerly anonymous tech geek who skyrocketed to fame after he wrote and posted a memo last July on his then-employer's diversity program. As a result of the memo and the outrage it engendered, Damore lost his job.
Fox News reports on the thought behind the suit:
Damore told Fox Business that Google still engages in “harassment and career sabotage of anyone that expresses a conservative viewpoint, and there’s constant shaming and attacks against white men within Silicon Valley.”
“Google employees and managers strongly preferred to hear the same orthodox opinions regurgitated repeatedly, producing an ideological echo chamber, a protected, distorted bubble of groupthink,” the lawsuit continued. “When Plaintiffs challenged Google’s illegal employment practices, they were openly threatened and subjected to harassment and retaliation from Google.”
In the 10-page memo that started it all Damore claimed that the diversity program at the overwhelmingly liberal company did not include intellectual diversity and described Google as "ideological echo chamber."
The resulting furor focused on Damore's claim that gender differences between men and women are a reality. For example, Damore claimed that the discrepancy between the number of male and female engineers at Google was a result not of discrimination but in innate differences between men and women, their aptitudes and the choices they make.
On a lesser level, it was a replay of Larry Summers' being forced out of his job as president of Harvard after Summers wondered aloud that gender differences might be the reason there is a smaller percentage of women in higher math.
In an excellent blog outlining the controversy, when it originally broke in the summer, my colleague Patrice Lee Onwuka made the Summers-Damore comparison:
Damore never said women cannot rise to corporate leadership including at Google, but he stepped on a similar outrage land mine that former Harvard Professor Larry Summers triggered when he said at a conference in 2005 that women were underrepresented in the upper echelons of abstract science because women and men have different intellectual make-ups. Summers never said women could not be scientists. Clearly, they can, but he attributed the discrepancy in numbers to something other than discrimination.
Women are just as capable of doing work in different tech fields. The male-to-female undergraduate student ratios at the top STEM programs in the country is close to 1:1. In 2015, women held 25 percent of technical occupations – falling from a high of 36 percent in the 1990s. Among the reasons women cite for leaving technical roles is not an inability to do the work, but the opposite such as a lack of opportunities to move up or develop. They also cited lack of support from a manager and balancing work and other obligations.
As a private company, Google has every right to fire Damore if the company doesn't believe he fits in their corporate culture.
Nonetheless, we can read Damore’s memo and be outraged or we can acknowledge the fact that many women are more likely to care about work-life balance than a title or fatter pay check. Perhaps then we wouldn’t miss a chance to have a productive discussion about the incentives (such as greater workplace flexibility) that help companies retain valuable female workers and boost the number of women in the tech ranks.
I agree with Patrice that a company has every right to let go of an employee who doesn't belong in its corporate culture. So I am ambivalent about Damore's suit. That said, I believe that the suit might raise the question of whether two groups–men and conservatives–currently face discrimination in the workplace.
This suit also reminds us how ideology is penetrating into too many aspects of our lives.