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In November 2018, over 20,000 Google employees participated in the Google Walkout, a peaceful protest to draw attention to the company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct reports and to demand change going forward. However, although the seven (all-female) organizers of the walkout were initially supported by their coworkers and company higher-ups, they are now reportedly facing retaliation. According to a letter written by Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, two of the main organizers, the company is punishing them for their act of protest.
In the letter, published in Wired, Whittaker, who leads Google’s Open Research, stated that she was informed her role would be “changed dramatically” after Google disbanded its AI ethics council on April 4th. In order to stay at the company, Whittaker was told she must “abandon” her AI ethics work and step down from her position at NYU’s AI Now Institute, a research center she cofounded.
And after putting in 12 years at Google, Stapleton was similarly informed she would be demoted from her marketing manager position at YouTube (which is owned by Google) and lose half her reports. She attempted to take up the issue with Human Resources, only to face more retaliation from her manager, who began ignoring her and assigning her work to other employees. Stapleton was even told to go on medical leave despite not having any health issues.
— Google Walkout For Real Change (@GoogleWalkout) November 1, 2018
“Our stories aren’t the only ones,” Stapleton and Whittaker wrote. “Google has a culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities. Retaliation isn’t always obvious. 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 a statement to Wired, a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company has investigated all allegations of retaliation. They said, “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.”
We demand that Google respect and uphold our existing contracts. For those whose contract was shortened, we demand payment for the remaining length of the contracts.
— Google Walkout For Real Change (@GoogleWalkout) April 2, 2019
In an attempt to push back against what they feel has been punishment for speaking out, Stapleton and Whittaker will host a Retaliation Town Hall on Friday, April 26th. They encourage those who attend to tell their stories and help strategize efficient methods to fight back.
“If you’ve been retaliated against, please share your story,” Stapleton and Whittaker conclude. “The more we share with each other, the easier it will be to push back. Add yours.”
We stand with those who attend the Town Hall, and hope they’re able to bring about permanent change.