Google Employee Threatens Legal Action After Being Fired Over Diversity Memo

August 8, 2017 Updated: August 8, 2017

A Google employee who was fired after sending out a memo on diversity in the company says he will likely take legal action.

“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” James Damore, a Google software engineer since 2013 told the New York Times.

Damore sent out a 10-page internal memo in July that argued, among other things, that Google’s left-leaning culture was oppressive toward those who may have more conservative world views or those who disagree with the governing liberal ideology, and that to create an atmosphere that is truly inclusive, all viewpoints should be heard.

“Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document,” he wrote.

He labeled the memo “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” and said he worried about the toxicity of being in a “a politically correct monoculture” that shames dissenters into silence and creates conditions that have in the past given rise to dictatorships and authoritarian governments.

He also suggested improvements to the workplace that would make jobs at Google more enticing to women, who he said were not represented in the company as much as men because of inherent traits such as wanting a balanced and fulfilling life and to be more creative and social.

“I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).”

On Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a message to employees, entitled “Our Words Matter,” saying that parts of the memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

Damore told various media that he had filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board before his firing, saying that Google’s upper management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints,” the New York Times reported.

The memo, which has found its way far outside its intended audience, has created a firestorm around Google, with people both agreeing and disagreeing with Damore, and inflaming a wider debate on gender in tech companies. Among the memo’s fans is Wikileaks founder and free-speech advocate Julian Assange, who offered the software engineer a job. 

The memo comes amid a discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Labor that alleges women at Google are paid less than men. Google denies that it is discriminatory in its pay structure, but has so far refused to hand over its compensation data, saying it would be too costly and difficult to gather.

Google’s firing of Damore also flies in the face of promises made by executives that the company is welcoming to people of all political stripes, though it’s worth noting that Damore himself identifies as a liberal. On his Twitter profile, he calls himself a “lovable contrarian.”

Bloomberg Technology reported that in June, a shareholder asked if the company was welcoming to conservatives, to which executives responded that it was.

“The company was founded under the principles of freedom of expression, diversity, inclusiveness and science-based thinking,” Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, said at the time. “You’ll also find that all of the other companies in our industry agree with us.”