In brief: Two of the Google employees who helped organize last November’s walkout say they have faced retaliation for their role in the protest.
Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton were two of the seven Google workers who helped organize the Walkout for Real Change back in November, which saw over 20,000 employees walk out of their offices to protest the way the company addressed sexual harassment allegations against senior executives. The accused were offered golden parachutes: millions of dollars in exit packages.
A week after the walkout, Google announced a comprehensive action plan outlining changes to its sexual harassment policies. But Whittaker and Stapleton say both themselves and “several” other organizers have faced retaliation from within the company for their actions.
Whittaker, who leads Google’s Open Research, said she was informed that her role would be “changed dramatically” after Google disbanded its external AI ethics council earlier this month. She was told that in order to stay at the company, she would have to “abandon” her work on AI ethics and her role at the AI Now Institute.
Stapleton, meanwhile, 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. She took her complaints to human resources but that made things worse. “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,” she wrote. Stapleton hired a lawyer and the company reversed her demotion following an investigation, but she says her environment remains hostile and she considers quitting every day.
Wired reports that the revelations were posted in a letter on many internal Google mailing lists yesterday, and that the pair are planning a “town hall” meeting on Friday for others to discuss alleged similar instances. The letter claims over 300 employees have faced retaliation since the walkout.
Google insists that there has been no retaliation, but Whittaker and Stapleton wrote that these types of actions can be carried out in subtle ways.
"Retaliation isn’t always obvious," they wrote. "It’s often confusing and drawn out, consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions. Behavior that tells someone the problem isn’t that they stood up to the company, it’s that they’re not good enough and don’t belong."
In response, a Google spokesperson said: “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.”