Google Contractor Alleges Disability Discrimination in Mass Email

A Google contractor alleged in a complaint to the New York State Division of Human Rights on Wednesday that she experienced retaliation and harassment from Google employees after she suffered a knee injury.
October 1, 2020, 2:49pm
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A contractor who works on Google's G Suite for Higher Education/Google For Education team alleged Google discriminated and retaliated against her after she suffered a knee injury in 2019 by removing her from team meetings, in a complaint reviewed by Motherboard that was filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights on Wednesday. 

In a mass email sent on Wednesday to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and thousands of Google employees, a sales development representative for the vendor Vaco who works in Google's New York City office, wrote that in 2019 Google requested her employer Vaco place her on a continuous performance improvement plan for failing to attend meetings without prior warnings, write-ups, or documentation of the meetings she missed. She claims she never missed meetings with notifying her team beforehand. 

The allegations follow many reports about Google's differential treatment of its temps, vendors, and contractors (known as "TVCs")—a second tier of workers that makes up at least half of Google's workforce. TVCs often do not receive perks and benefits of full employment at Google, such as paid time off, high salaries, and invitations to company-wide all-hands meetings. Google's two-tier workforce has sparked some of the recent worker-led activism and backlash against Google. In 2018, Google's TVCs published a letter to CEO Pichai, charging that this system at Google was perpetuating institutionalized sexism, racism, and discrimination at the company. In 2019, 80 Google tech contractors in Pittsburgh voted to unionize with the United Steelworkers with the intent of raising their wages and expanding their benefits to more closely reflect those received by full-time Google employees. 

According to the contractor's complaint filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights, Google discriminated against her for a "knee injury," by denying her training, giving her a disciplinary notice, denying her request for accommodation for her disability and benefits, and harassing and intimidating her. Motherboard agreed to keep the worker anonymous because she fears retaliation from future employers.

"I received this [performance improvement plan] on 11/13/2019 the day before my scheduled Knee Surgery on 11/14/19," the contractor alleges in the complaint. "I believe this was intended to cause psychological harm. Google is aware that during this time I was disabled and needed surgery. Since receiving the [performance improvement plan, I have not been invited to Higher Ed Monthly meetings that included other [temps, vendors, and contractors]."

The contractor goes on to allege that a coworker on her team went to her managers in February claiming she did not "say hello" to her, leading them to give the contractor a verbal warning. "I developed acute chest pain relating to stress from this incident, exacerbating my anxiety disorder," she writes in the complaint. Another team member she alleges refused to talk to her, "chang[ed] her role and responsibilities," and "would not refer to her as a member of the team, which caus[ed] confusion to others."

Motherboard reviewed the contractor's performance improvement plan from Vaco, which listed its concerns as "excessive absence in meetings" and "failure to respond to questions, communication and meeting requests," and required that her work be monitored on a weekly basis. "Please note that if there is no noticeable improvement, further disciplinary action may be taken; up to and including termination," the letter from Vaco said.

The contractor says that while she missed three meetings out of 40 over the course of a month and a half prior to the warning she received from Vaco, she always pre-notified her Google team about her absences, according to an email she sent to her manager reviewed by Motherboard. (The contractor does not receive paid time off as a Google vendor who is paid by the hour, making it a financial burden for her to schedule a day off to take a doctor's appointment.)  

"This [performance improvement plan] has caused me tremendous emotional distress, impacting my working relationships with [full time Google employees] and [temps, vendors, and contractors] and has been used as justification to remove me from team meetings," the contractor wrote in her letter to Pichai and Google For Education workers. 

The contractor alleges that the Google For Higher Education team stopped inviting her to team meetings in January 2020, and failed to respond to two requests from Vaco's human resources team for evidence that she had missed meetings. 

Instead, she says she communicates through a Google account manager who shares her ideas in meetings. Motherboard confirmed that the contractor had not been on the invite list for three team meetings in September 2020. The contractor claims she has not been invited to any team meetings since January 2020. 

"I am… concerned about Account Managers not crediting me for ideas I contributed as I am not invited to meetings and have to advocate through them," she wrote. "I am consistently given positive reviews about my work and do not understand why I am being marginalized." 

In the letter, she says that she plans to resign from her role on October 2, and hopes that her letter will result in meaningful changes for how Google administers performance improvement plans for TVCs and how it treats workers from marginalized groups. 

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"I would request that this company take action on my behalf in addressing these issues," she wrote. "My resignation from Vaco is constructive dismissal as both Vaco and Google knew about these issues and did not act to resolve them in a timely or appropriate fashion." 

Google did not respond to a request for comment. Vaco, which is not a party to the formal complaint, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. We will update if we hear back.