Alleged retaliation for employee protests at Google - Activate World

Alleged retaliation for employee protests at Google

Google employees are protesting again six months after walkouts over the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims. Protests took place on the May 1 Day of Action at sit-ins at Google offices around the world following allegations of retaliation from the company against employees who participated in last year’s walkouts. 

Lunchtime Conversations:

  • As demanded by the activist group, should Google conduct a transparent, open investigation of HR and its poor handling of employee complaints relating to working conditions, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation?
  • Has Google lost its mooring and trust between workers and the company?  How can it be regained? If you were Google’s CEO, what actions would you take this week?
  • Is retaliation legal? Why do some leaders and companies take actions that are more inappropriate and discriminatory than the first?


  • Google’s statement on the issue: “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and investigate all allegations. Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganized, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here.”
  • On May 1, International Workers Day, a posting suggested a range of protest actions to be taken by employees that included abstaining from interviewing employee candidates “because of ethical reasons, because of HR failures, because you cannot in good faith recommend working at Google.”
  • The posting linked to a set of demands, including a call for a “transparent, open investigation of HR.” It also provides a link for employees to share their own experiences of retaliation at the company


Last week, Google came under fire from two leaders of the walkout, Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, who alleged in a message posted internally that the company has been retaliating against them – a claim Google has denied. The activists, whose message was first reported by Wired, announced a Retaliation Town Hall on Friday to share their stories and strategize. According to an internal posting, roughly 10,000 Googlers watched live or streamed video footage after the event.

Whittaker, who leads Google’s Open Research, said that after the company disbanded its external AI ethics council on April 4, she was told that her role would be “changed dramatically.” Whittaker said she was told that to stay at the company, she would have to “abandon” her work on AI ethics and her role at AI Now Institute, a research center she co-founded at New York University.

Stapleton said that two months after the protest she was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube and lose half her reports. After escalating the issue to human resources, she said she faced further retaliation. “My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton wrote.

The company’s alleged retaliation against some employees is the subject of a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board. It is against federal law to threaten employees with “adverse consequences” for engaging in “protected, concerted activity.”

Sources: BloombergCNN BusinessFortuneWired

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash