Google, Searching for Lawyers

by Jim Geraghty

When does one employee holding an opinion contrary to another employee’s become harassment? My guess is that a lawsuit at Google is going to explore that question under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

Google on Monday fired the employee who wrote an internal memo suggesting men are better suited for tech jobs than women, escalating a debate over free speech at the company.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in an email to his staff that the employee’s memo violated company policy. Google, part of Alphabet Inc., didn’t publicly name the memo’s author.

Software engineer James Damore, who said in an email that he wrote the memo and was fired for it, said he was considering legal action against Google for firing him after he complained to federal labor officials about executives’ alleged efforts to silence him.

Mr. Damore published an internal memo last week that criticized Google’s efforts to increase diversity at the company, arguing the program discriminated against some employees. He said men were generally better at engineering jobs than women and a liberal bias among executives and many employees made it difficult to discuss the issue at Google.

The memo went viral inside the company, which spilled into public view when Google employees publicly criticized it and eventually leaked it to the media. The controversy posed a thorny question for one of the world’s largest companies, one that espouses free speech: How would it handle an employee who offered opinions that were, to many inside the company, offensive?

“Portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” Mr. Pichai said in his email. He added that the company’s code of conduct requires “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”

Damore was talking to the National Labor Relations Board before the firing . . .  so Google just fired an employee who was talking to the government about a hostile working environment.

One of the statements in that memo: “In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.”

Google couldn’t prove his point any better if they had deliberately tried!

Before the firing, CNBC pointed to two other potential legal issues:

First, federal labor law bars even non-union employers like Google from punishing an employee for communicating with fellow employees about improving working conditions. The purpose of the memo was to persuade Google to abandon certain diversity-related practices the engineer found objectionable and to convince co-workers to join his cause, or at least discuss the points he raised.

In a reply to the initial outcry over his memo, the engineer added to his memo: “Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.” The law protects that kind of “concerted activity.”

Second, the engineer’s memo largely is a statement of his political views as they apply to workplace policies. The memo is styled as a lament to “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” California law prohibits employers from threatening to fire employees to get them to adopt or refrain from adopting a particular political course of action.

On matters like this, you want to hear from our David French:

It’s important to note that Google and American Airlines are both private corporations. They have enormous latitude to advance their own corporate viewpoints and to regulate the speech of their employees. There is no First Amendment violation here. There’s nothing illegal about fellow employees or corporate employers attempting to squelch the speech of employees who quite literally dissent from the company line.

But just because something is legal does not mean it’s right, and the result is a crisis in the culture of free speech in the United States. As the politicization of everything proceeds apace, the “company line” has increasingly moved well beyond promoting its own products to promoting a particular kind of politics. Major corporations and virtually every university in the nation are now political entities just as much as they’re commercial entities, and they wear their progressivism on their sleeves.

Our Michael Brendan Dougherty with a terrific observation:

For what’s it’s worth, I’m not sure that even apologists for Diversity with a capital D really believe that all disparities are the result of oppression. Before I joined the class of people who type into a screen for a living, I did short stints of decently-compensated work sealing driveway pavement and making industrial quantities of ammonium formate on the floor of a chemical plant. They were all-male environments. No one worries that women are being held back from these jobs. Diversity is surely important. Diversity is good. Diversity is the best. But for now it is a fight among priests. Only God can judge it.

One other detail worth noting:

Google said in its annual diversity report in June that 31% of its employees are women, unchanged from a year earlier. The percentage of black employees also was unchanged at 2 percent, and the number of Hispanic workers increased to 4 percent from 3 percent. Most Google workers are white and Asian men.

Wait, I Thought We Were Heading into a Democratic Wave Midterm Election

Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, which includes some of Cleveland’s western suburbs, is neither the most heavily Republican district in the state nor easy territory for Democrats, scoring an R+8 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Democrat John Boccieri won in this district in the Obama wave of 2008, and it’s an open seat, as incumbent Republican Jim Renacci is running for governor in 2018.

You would think this district would be a second-tier or at least third-tier target for Democrats seeking to retake the House – no easy pickings, but the sort of seat they could win if they get a national wave.

And yet, candidate recruitment isn’t going as smoothly as Democrats might have hoped:

Democrat Keith Mundy, who was trounced by U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci last year, says he’s going to run again next year in Ohio’s 16th Congressional district.

The thing is, though, Mundy doesn’t really want to run again.

“Personally, I would rather see someone else run who’s younger who might be smarter and have more money,” Mundy, a 67-year-old legal research and delivery service owner from Parma, told cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer. “But right now, I don’t see anyone else stepping up to run in the 16th District.”

Political novice Aaron Godfrey, a physicist from North Olmsted, is the only Democrat to formally enter the race so far. Mundy said he’s worried Godfrey would be “eaten alive” in a general election.

Even if a viable Democrat does enter the race, Mundy said, he would continue running with the idea that a Democratic primary would bring more media attention to that candidate.

Mundy, who got involved in politics through Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign last year, said he has little chance of winning the heavily Republican district. With Renacci running for governor in 2018, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Patton and state Rep. Christina Hagan are squaring off in the GOP primary.

I almost admire the open reluctance:

Keith Mundy 2018: Well, I Guess, If Nobody Else Wants to Run I’ll Do It

The Uncomfortable Ease of Jumping from News Jobs to Campaign Jobs

I’m going to attempt to speak gently here, in part because of my past interactions with everyone involved, i.e., CNN and CNN International periodically inviting me to join their panels and the eye-roll seen around the world . . . 

You may have seen Kayleigh McEnany departed CNN and signed on to do news-report-style appearances on Trump’s Facebook page, as well as a public role with the Republican National Committee. She signed off from her Trump-approved appearance on Trump’s social media platform with the slogan, “and that is the real news!” – echoing, of course, Trump’s assertion that media reports critical of him are “Fake News.”

As a CNN contributor, McEnany was everything the Trump campaign and administration could possibly want; if she ever uttered a critical word, I missed it. You have to wonder if she does more good to promote the administration’s arguments as a talking head on CNN or as a spokeswoman role for the RNC. (She offers the same message in both venues; the question is whether she does it on the network’s dime or on the party’s, and which audience she reaches in each one.) You also have to wonder how CNN is feeling right now. They hired McEnany and turned her into a familiar face to television viewers; she suddenly departed to formally join the party. Or how McEnany feels about telling viewers on the Facebook page to stay there for “real news” as opposed to the cable news networks . . .  like the one that hired her.

CNN aired a fairly critical segment about their former employee’s new role, with Brian Stelter asking, “The president has railed against ‘fake news,’ isn’t this a sign the president create his own version, he’d rather make his own newscast?” (I wonder if this is the news-world equivalent of fans burning an old player’s jersey when he signs a free agent contract with another team.)

Our Tiana Lowe points out the network’s perspective on assembling panels:

The New York Times Magazine’s disturbing profile of Zucker last spring made that much clear: As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are “characters in a drama,” members of CNN’s extended ensemble case. “Everybody says, ‘Oh I can’t believe you have Jeffery Lord or Kayleigh McEnancy,’ but you know what?” Zucker told me with some satisfaction. “They know who Jeffery Lord and Kayleigh McEnany are.”

(Jim looks in the mirror and asks, “which character am I?”)

(Every once in a while, I get asked about this; I am not paid contributor to CNN or CNN International, but they cover the costs of getting me to and from their studios. I have never been asked to argue a particular perspective for or against the administration. We’re told the topics of discussion ahead of time, but not the questions that will be asked.)

ADDENDA: It took a little while, but the new edition of the pop culture podcast is indeed now posted.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty