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Google Employee Alleges Discrimination Against Pregnant Women in Viral Memo

The memo, titled “I’m Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why,” has been read by more than 10,000 employees at the company.

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Jason Koebler
Aug 5 2019, 3:34pm

A memo written by a Google employee that accuses the company of discriminating and retaliating against her for being pregnant has been seen by more than 10,000 employees at the internet giant, Motherboard has learned.

Last week, the woman posted the memo, titled "I'm Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why," to an internal company message board for expecting and new mothers. The memo was reposted to other internal message boards and has since gone viral, multiple current Google employees in different parts of the company have told Motherboard. Since then, employees have been posting memes that have gathered thousands of likes. The memes were made in support of the woman on an internal message board called “Memegen.”

The memo follows months of worker action at Google. In November, employees staged a worldwide walkout in which thousands of employees protested exit packages worth millions of dollars given to male executives who had been accused of sexual harassment, while staying silent about that harassment. In January, shareholders alleged that the company tried to cover up sexual misconduct at the company.

“I’m sharing this statement because I hope it informs needed change in how Google handles discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” the woman wrote. “This is a long read, but the details are important in understanding the often drawn-out, isolating and painful experience of victims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Also, if anything similar has happened to you, know that you’re not alone.”

One of the memes shared in the Google internal board for meme sharing]
One of the memes shared in the Google internal board for meme sharing.

“WOW. I can’t wait till absolutely nothing changes as a result,” one employee posted about the memo. “She deserves better than this continued train-wreck.”

In the memo, which is more than 2,300 words long, the woman says that her manager made discriminatory remarks about pregnant women. She says she reported the manager to human resources, which she alleges spurred retaliation.

“I documented what my boss was saying and reached out to HR to ask for help in navigating the situation. It was shared that others had reported my manager behaving inappropriately and that feedback had already been given to her. I was told my comments might be shared directly with my boss, but not to worry because strong measures are in place at Google to prevent retaliation,” she wrote. “Almost immediately upon my discussions with HR, my manager’s demeanor towards me changed, and drastically. I endured months of angry chats and emails, vetoed projects, her ignoring me during in-person encounters, and public shaming.”

Do you work or have you worked at Google, or another tech company? We'd love to hear from you about workplace culture. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, OTR chat at lorenzofb@jabber.ccc.de, or email lorenzofb@vice.com

The woman, who was also a manager, says she eventually joined another team, but wasn't allowed to manage anyone on that team until she returned from maternity leave; she claims she was told that her maternity leave might “stress the team” and “rock the boat.” She says that she and her baby had potentially life-threatening complications toward the end of her pregnancy, and that she would need to go on maternity leave earlier than expected.

“During one conversation with my new manager in which I reiterated an early leave and upcoming bedrest, she told me that she had just listened to an NPR segment that debunked the benefits of bedrest,” she wrote. She also shared that her doctor had ordered her to take bedrest, but that she ignored the order and worked up until the day before she delivered her son via cesarean section. My manager then emphasized in this same meeting that a management role was no longer guaranteed upon my return from maternity leave, and that she supported my interviewing for other roles at Google.”

Motherboard has obtained and verified the authenticity of the memo, and has verified that more than 10,000 people within the company have read it. Motherboard has not been able to independently verify all the claims made in the memo. When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson declined to answer Motherboard’s questions. Instead, the spokesperson sent this statement:

“We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy. To make sure that no complaint raised goes unheard at Google, we give employees multiple channels to report concerns, including anonymously, and investigate all allegations of retaliation,” the statement read.

Motherboard reached out to the author of the memo, who declined to comment. Motherboard has posted the full memo here with personal information redacted because we have not been able to verify all of the claims made in it.

One of the memes shared in the Google internal board for meme sharing. “PeopleOps” refers to the human resources department.
One of the memes shared in the Google internal board for meme sharing. “PeopleOps” refers to the human resources department.

Many of the memes posted about the memo defend the woman and say that Google HR should take issues like this more seriously.

“0 days since last time I was too scared to meme about a topic,” one employee joked in a meme, riffing on a popular Futurama GIF. Another meme joked that Googlers have less trust in HR than they do in "gas-station sushi."

"This is alarming. And sadly not surprising. It fits a long-standing pattern at the company. Google has a culture of retaliation that is reflected in its abysmal diversity numbers,” a former Googler who read the memo said. “The pipeline isn't the problem: the racist, misogynist culture that penalizes those who speak up is."

The memo highlights how Google employees and executives are still reckoning with the company’s alleged discrimination against women and minorities. Exactly two years ago today, another, much different memo, went internally viral at Google. That one was written by the now infamous James Damore, an engineer who wrote a 10,000-word, unscientific memo attempting to argue that women are naturally less disposed to be good engineers compared to men. The purpose of that memo was to get Google to scale back its diversity efforts.

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