back to article Stop us if you've heard this one: Ex-Googler sues web giant claiming terrible treatment. This time, sex harassment

A former Google engineer is suing the US advertising giant after undergoing what she says was years of sexual harassment and retaliation from coworkers. Loretta Lee filed suit [PDF] earlier this month with the Santa Clara County Superior Court in California to collect damages for alleged infractions including a hostile work …

  1. Dr Scrum Master

    Don't Play Well With Others

    I spoke to an ex-Googler when I was interviewing for a job recently. He described how Google hired very clever people, but they don't necessarily have the social skills to be able to play well with others.

    You can guess why he's an ex-Googler and moved to a company where they treat you as adults and expect you to behave as adults.

    1. Lysenko

      Re: Don't Play Well With Others

      There's going to be a series of blowback law suits a little down the line. Obviously, people with poor social skills exist everywhere, but some of them are going to have a medical diagnosis (likely some form of ASD) to back it up, and that's going to potentially trigger disability discrimination law if the symptoms are penalised when they are not directly relevant to the job description.

      The virtue signalling of outlawing "inappropriate comments" in the workplace inverts somewhat when it is reframed as "I shouldn't have to work with disabled people because they make me feel uncomfortable".

      1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Re: Don't Play Well With Others

        It's Google's responsibility to maintain a professional environment. That means helping people who need help and firing people who are simply not safe to have around. HR departments are supposed to have a process to skip the chains of command when there's a critical problem. Google claims they have that but there's a lot of chaos in a company that's essentially the northern halves of three (soon four) densely populated cities.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Don't Play Well With Others

          It's Google's responsibility to maintain a professional environment.

          Maybe — I'm not sure if this is legally definable let alone enforceable but be that as it may — the big problem is it can only do something if it knows about it. If you can't provide evidence that complaints were made and ignored then there is no case.

          Also, going after the company in a civil suit rather than the individuals smacks of ambulance-chasing for a bigger payout. Sure, that's the American Way™ but it's hardly suited to changing behaviour.

          FWIW recently a friend of mine received a fairly obscene image from a colleague. It was tasteless, uninvited and well beyond anything you can laugh off, ie. bordering on harassment, which is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Don't Play Well With Others

            FWIW recently a friend of mine received a fairly obscene image from a colleague. It was tasteless, uninvited and well beyond anything you can laugh off, ie. bordering on harassment, which is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police.

            It was Chris Finch.

            Finchy. Oh, haha. Finchy... hahahaah... Finchy.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Don't Play Well With Others

            "bordering on harassment, which is a criminal offense and should be reported to the police."

            Escalation is how we get all these boring overdone claims.

            Yes Harassment can be criminal because mawFeels but something Bordering on Harassment isn't.

          3. Paper

            Re: Don't Play Well With Others

            Why do so few people not just take it up with the person in question before going higher up? I appreciate it is shocking when someone transgresses normal social boundaries, but for pete's sake, speak up and make sure the other person knows you are unhappy.

            Let's say someone touches you without invitation or you see them making someone else uncomfortable. If it were me, I'd immediately lightly slap their hand and say sternly: "No touching, thank you very much :| ".

            Of course it sounds like management in her case didn't do what they were meant to do.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      "they don't necessarily have the social skills"

      Not having "social skills" doesn't mean to be a very rude and ill-mannered person. Many people without social skill usually avoid most contacts with others, but maybe people alike them with which they can talk about the topic they are interested in.

      The reported events, if true, don't point at socially awkward people. They point at true jerks, who always got away being that, and keep on until an adult teach them how to behave the hard way.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: "they don't necessarily have the social skills"

        The reported events, if true, don't point at socially awkward people.

        Being a jerk is one way that people can use to hide their own awkwardness: think high-functioning sociopaths.

  2. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    Is this the same in other large corporations?

    I don't wish to demean this woman's traumatic experiences but I wonder if this is not uncommon in large corporations. I could well imagine that the HR dept. & senior management are unwilling or unable to change the culture that has long existed in the company.

    For example, I wouldn't be surprised if this was not uncommon in workplaces where the testosterone level was quite high (say, investment banking) and that the women in question are afraid of losing their high salaries if they rock the boat.

    How does the culture of a large corporation change? How do you get women to go to HR? Is it the problem that HR is seen as a tool for senior management to protect themselves from employees? And even if the abused go, is it worth their while to go? Will anything improve or change for the better once they do go?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Is this the same in other large corporations?

      For example, I wouldn't be surprised if this was not uncommon in workplaces where the testosterone level was quite high

      I know a few women who prefer that kind of environment to one where the oestrogen levels are high. There might not be any sexual harassment but women-only environments can be just as toxic: people can be real shits to each other.

      Not that this is an excuse for the behaviour, because there isn't one.

    2. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: Is this the same in other large corporations?

      I would say this is probably common in overworked companies.

      Your brain needs downtime or the first thing to go is your self control. Same with not having eaten for too long. In the latter case I'd point out that Lord Fallon's most famous offence took place right before an evening meal.

      Work people too hard and they become monstrous. Expect them to remain at the workplace and operate as part of the company late into the evening, even in a social sense? Don't do that.

      Not that I'm excusing people's behaviour. Getting enough downtime and having a snack before a high powered formal event are entirely under your own control. If your employer won't let you then start here.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Is this the same in other large corporations?

      I've worked in companies from 30 employee up to over 50,000 in the UK and mainland Europe and I have only once seen any sexual harassment in the workplace.

      A male employee exposed himself to a female employee, who reported it to her boss. This happened at the end of the day and we were all told to leave the building, regardless of whether we needed to work longer or not. The next day, the one person was missing. It only came out some time later what had really happened.

      I have worked at a few companies, where hugging was allowed, but this was always with consent from both parties. But in most companies, when you arrived in the morning, it was normal to shake hands with the other employees.

      I've also experienced men making typical misogynistic comments about women among themselves, but never in front of female colleagues. But that was back in the 80s.

      As to women in HR, in the companies I've worked at, HR has usually been a female dominated department.

      1. DougS Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Is this the same in other large corporations?

        I've never been in a workplace where where I DIDN'T see sexual harassment. As a consultant I've seen a lot of workplaces - I've been in a number of Fortune 500 companies, a startup in Palo Alto, a non-profit that makes educational software, a major Wall Street firm and a large bank in Canada. Before my time as an independent consultant I worked in a major hospital, a large university and a medium sized engineering company.

        If you've only seen it once you must walk around with your eyes closed, or think it isn't sexual harassment until a guy exposes himself or reaches his hand up a woman's skirt.

        1. Geronimo!

          Re: Is this the same in other large corporations?

          I can only confirm Big_D's story from my own experience:

          27 years spent with the smallest companies (3-4) and big enterprises (300k):

          The only sexual harassment case, that I have seen / experienced so far, was in the Army.

          (Funny story, where I was the apparent offender first and then became the victim)

          Everywhere else:

          Yes, "funny" comments about women were being made, when no female was around.

          But I have never, ever seen or heard of men behaving like that.

          Seeing the difference between Europe / UK and US / Canada - you might start to think, there's a massive cultural difference there...

    4. swm Bronze badge

      Re: Is this the same in other large corporations?

      At a very large company I worked for we had a mandatory sexual harassment session with HR. After going through the usual about what was improper etc. I pointed out that the session was to limit successful lawsuits and not stop sexual harassment. Dead silence from the HR representative.

  3. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Something biblical ..

    .... as ye sow, so shall ye reap ...

    A workplace that obsessively naval-gazes about issues of identity politics, finds identity politics comes back to bite. Who's next?

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: Something biblical ..

      Damn, keyboard trouble. Meant to add a pseudo-Wildeian quip.

      To suffer one discrimination lawsuit might be considered a misfortune. Three looks like ...

  4. adam payne Silver badge

    We have strong policies against harassment in the workplace and review every complaint we receive. We take action when we find violations - including termination of employment.

    It's all well and good giving a stock statement but with all the lawsuits coming your way people are going to start to wonder.

    If half of these things are true then Google need to get a grip and do something about this.

    1. RyokuMas Silver badge
      Devil

      "Google need to get a grip"

      The only things Google cares about getting a grip on is as much of our data as possible, and what we are presented with when using the web.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not buying it, time taken to bring case, time working at google and the fact there are also lots of other cases flying around. I also note she was allegedly hit with nerf bullets every single day and the claim makes multiple references to bro-culture. I may be wrong, time will tell.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I don't accept the delay or the other lawsuits as evidence that she's lying. As a man who has quit two jobs due to sexual harrassment (once by a man, one by a woman) the only way I would talk about it openly is if there were supporting claims made by others. I certainly wouldn't expect to win any cases as things are now.

      Is her language unreasonable and problematic? Of course it is. Punch someone in the face and see how civilised they are after that. You treat people badly, they don't often stay polite.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Fair points, she also alludes to not knowing how a normal workplace should be as she started at google aged 26, this is an intelligent woman who should be aware that the sort of behaviour she claims to have been subjected to is not the norm, she even points this out with her dealings with HR. I get the feeling that the case should have been about how they didn't accommodate her after the dui accident but her lawyer has decided to go for the harassment angle as an extra, at least that's what I get from reading it. Like I said I may be wrong.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Very good point about her age. Damore was recruited straight out of university too. Does anyone in Google have actual life experiences?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    can only relate to myself as a young employee

    and liking a colleague in a big software firm and you're alone and you're amplifying all kinds of things in your head until you find some power to talk to her and you don't know what you're doing and then just send her something stupid - per email because you're still too shy. Now multiply this with 1000 nerds who noticed the same girl in the canteen. I send her three relatively weird e-mails in 5 years (nothing sexual) and tried and failed laughably to talk to her.

  7. DuchessofDukeStreet

    It's About the Numbers

    A small percentage of people are arseholes, and a small percentage of those are people who find it acceptable to say and do sexually-inappropriate things to other people, including their colleagues. The more time you spend in the company of people who have decent moral standards, the more likely you're going to buy into that level of behaviour.

    If you've got a company where the gender balance is 50/50, the five creepy blokes are likely to be misbehaving to a number of different women (or other blokes, or women misbehaving to men, or other women).

    In a company with a strong gender bias to male, that creepiness is focussed on one woman, because she's the only victim available. Compound it by the fact that there isn't a balancing effect from the collective team that "this isn't okay", and it becomes a default behaviour that the wider group normalises. Until the woman gets to the point where it isn't tolerable any longer and makes a complaint (slightly different topic but you all know that a domestic violence victim tolerates being hit 42 times before they call the police, right?).

    There is a awesome collection of nerf guns in one room in my building. The team are banned from using them on a regular basis, then it becomes Friday afternoon fun, then end of the day fun, then a free for all, then someone gets hit and complains and the ban comes back in. I'm one of only two women who goes into that room on a regular basis; none of the guys have EVER shot at us. Every male visitor - fair game. Discrimination? Yeah maybe. But they've all seen the sharpness of my heels - if I throw one of them back it's going to hurt a great deal more.

  8. vordan

    Nobody sues poor companies for harassment

    1. 21st Century Peon

      Re:Nobody sues poor companies for harassment

      Poor companies don't have massively profitable workers whose interpersonal shittiness is carefully ignored because of those massive profits.

  9. Daggerchild Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Google should merge with Mumsnet

    Honest to God, the best thing a collection of overtuned order-addicts could get is a gaggle of worldy-wise mothers with rolled up newspapers just wandering around their spaces jovially chatting.

    You can just imagine some Aspergers-Darkside bubbling up a vicious high-brow snide remark, but getting a newspaper across the ear, and then sitting for the next half hour trying to logically deduce how they could possibly have known before he'd even said anything...

    1. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: Google should merge with Mumsnet

      Is that what you think Mumsnet is like?

  10. Claptrap314 Bronze badge

    I still don't buy this. I did not buy the idiots claiming this sort of thing was happening every day to every woman at G when I was there, and I don't believe it now. I've worked at startups & at IBM, AMD, and G. It's not just that "I did not see" this. It's that the culture did not tolerate it. Yes, there are unprofessional idiots everywhere. But we're actually too busy to allow garbage of this sort to pass.

    Only case I heard about--at IBM my director was suddenly gone one day. Apparently, he had propositioned a subordinate the day before. (She got his job--and was already fast tracking.)

    To win against the company, you have to demonstrate that management was aware of the behaviour, and failed to respond appropriately. At G in particular, management was in a perpetual tizzy to identify and eliminate environmental "problems" that weren't even willful. This doesn't pass the smell test.

  11. josephharris

    costs of legal action

    Even in the UK the costs of bringing an action are considerable; over recent decades even Legal Aid, which helped the poor and lower middle classes has been eroded almost to the point of uselessness. In the US such costs are generally higher.

    Finding a lawyer to take on a case is not that easy. I suggest the case has enough in it to merit court time. Google does not like going to court, though; unless to erode copyright!

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