In January, fired Google engineer James Damore filed a lawsuit alleging that Google discriminated against white men and political conservatives. On Wednesday, another former Google engineer, Tim Chevalier, sued the company for firing him for posting what he calls politically liberal content, including criticism of Damore, on Google’s internal message boards.
The offending posts include comments calling Damore’s 10-page memo “misogynistic” because it argued that women were less biologically suited to be engineers, as well as anti-Trump and anti-racist memes, and a link to an external blog post where Chevalier wrote that “white boys” expect privilege and feel threatened if they don’t receive it.
Chevalier, who is queer and transgender, worked as a site-reliability engineer for Google from December 2015 to November 2017. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, offers a new window into the simmering culture war inside Google over diversity.
Chevalier’s posts appear more than a dozen times in Damore’s lawsuit as examples of the alleged discrimination against white men at Google, including an external blog post Chevalier wrote about punching Nazis and screenshots of Chevalier’s Twitter account where he changed his handle to “Punch All the Nazis.” Damore’s suit claims both references to punching Nazis showed “Google endors[ed] political violence.”
In a press release, Chevalier said, “It is a cruel irony that Google attempted to justify firing me by claiming that my social networking posts showed bias against my harassers. The anti-discrimination laws are meant to protect marginalized and underrepresented groups- not those who attack them.”
In a statement, Google said, “An important part of our culture is lively debate. But like any workplace, that doesn’t mean anything goes. All employees acknowledge our code of conduct and other workplace policies, under which promoting harmful stereotypes based on race or gender is prohibited. This is a very standard expectation that most employers have of their employees. The overwhelming majority of our employees communicate in a way that is consistent with our policies. But when an employee does not, it is something we must take seriously. We always make our decision without any regard to the employee’s political views.”
In Wednesday’s complaint, Chevalier claims that a Google HR representative met with him in September to discuss concerns about his posts on internal forums. The common element among the offending posts was applying “politically liberal views to the ongoing political debates between Googlers,” the suit says. According to the complaint, the HR rep said using the term “white boys” could be perceived as a generalization about race and gender. The HR rep also objected to an internal Google+ post where Chevalier criticized Republicans for affiliating themselves with torch-carrying protesters at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the suit says. Six weeks after the meeting, Chevalier was fired.
Damore also had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Google violated his right to participate in protected activity. On Friday, a lawyer for the NLRB concluded that portions of Damore’s memo were not protected by labor law, and so Google was within its rights to fire him. In a memo, the lawyer wrote that workplaces should be free to “‘nip in the bud’ the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a ‘hostile workplace.'”
Diversity advocates at Google, many of whom were queer or transgender, told WIRED in January they were being targeted for harassment by coworkers in order to silence internal discussion around racial and gender diversity. At the time, advocates said that
at least 10 Google employees had been reprimanded by Google’s human resources department for making negative comments about Damore’s memo or making generalizations about white men. Repercussions included verbal warnings, lower performance review scores, and a year-long suspension from hiring and promotion.
Liz Fong-Jones, one of the Google engineers targeted for harassment, says Chevalier was a victim of the same kind of “weaponization of HR” used to silence other advocates. Fong-Jones says the content that got Chevalier fired “sat on the intranet for a long time and nobody was actively contemporaneously complaining about them that I could see, then suddenly he was gone.”
UPDATE, 7:39PM: This story has been updated to include a statement from Google in response to Chevalier’s suit.