I teach my students that in the U.S., one of the basic tenets of HR is to never retaliate against an employee who has filed a complaint with a federal agency against the employer.
James Damore, the engineer fired by google, is saying that this is exactly what happened in his case and he plans to pursue Google in the California Court.
James Damore was fired for circulating a memo saying that due to biological differences, women are less inclined to tech and leadership roles. Google CEO, Sundar Pichai found that Damore’s comments violated the company’s code of conduct by advancing harmful gender stereotypes at Google. Therefore, Damore was fired.
Damore, however, claims that because he had already filed a complaint against Google for discrimination with the National Labor Relations Board, his firing was in retaliation.
At this point, I am not sure of all the facts. My subjective reading of the situation is that Damore seems to be claiming that some type of reverse discrimination against white males is going on at Google because women and minorities are offered developmental workshops and white males are not.
Is that true? I don’t know.
The plot thickens and I am eager to learn more about exactly what the facts are.
Certainly, this is a very interesting and educational teaching case for HR Professors and Consultants.
Given that I am on a sabbatical in the Fall semester, I will be spending sometime following this case and writing about it.
One of the fundamental points I make to my HR students is this. In the United States, the First Amendment does not apply to the relationship between employees and employers in the private sector.
The first Amendment does protect the public’s right to free speech. Therefore, people in the United States are free to express a diversity of views and opinions on political, economic, social, and other matters. Every young person joining the workforce should be taught that the freedom to speak one’s mind in the workplace is not unlimited.
Of course, every employer is obligated to comply with Federal, State, and Local laws in the United States. However, within that framework, an employer has the right to enforce standards and rules of conduct it views as consistent with its values and the corporate culture.
A Google employee learned this basic HR lesson the hard way recently when he was fired. This employee had expressed his views that Google’s diversity efforts were destined to fail because these efforts did not take into account the biological differences between men and women. According to this employee, the gender differences made women less suitable for the engineering profession. The memo expressing these opinions was leaked to the press.
The next day, Google fired the employee. The message from the Google CEO is clear. Working at Google is not a right. It is a privilege.
Could this situation have been handled better? Possibly. But how? If a male engineer truly feels that his female colleagues are not as capable, how would that affect the company culture and spirit and the work environment?
Perhaps the HR experts among the readers can give suggestions for alternative ways to resolve the tension that could have been adopted by Google management.
Whether one agrees with the firing of the employee at Google or not, from an HR perspective and a legal perspective, Google was perfectly within its rights to do that.
For details on the story, see the following link from NYT.