Google did not violate labour law by firing James Damore, the author of a memo that argued women were biologically less capable to work in software engineering than men, according to an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.
James Damore, right, a former Google engineer fired in 2017 after writing a memo about the biological differences between men and women, speaks at a news conference while his attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, listens, Monday, 8 January 2018, in San Francisco. (AP)
Damore, who was fired last August after the memo he’d circulated internally at Google became public, complained to the NLRB that Google had violated his right to participate in concerted activity to address problems in his workplace when it fired him. An attorney with the NLRB recommended that the board dismiss Damore’s complaint in a January 16 letter that was published by the NLRB yesterday.
Damore dropped his NLRB complaint last month, saying he would focus instead on a class action lawsuit in which he accuses Google of discriminating against its white, male and conservative employees.
According to a memo written by NLRB attorney Jayme Sophir, Google was careful to note that it was firing Damore for his discriminatory comments, rather than his criticisms of Google’s diversity and inclusion efforts. The NLRB determined that, while his critique of Google was protected by law, his discriminatory statements were not – and that Google was therefore within its rights to fire him.
The NLRB memo includes talking points that Google prepared and read over the phone to Damore when he was fired. “I want to make clear that our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalises and advances stereotypes about women versus men,” Google’s talking points stated. “I also want to be clear that this is not about you expressing yourself on political issues or having political views that are different than others at the company. Having a different political view is absolutely fine. Advancing gender stereotypes is not.”
Prior to his firing, Google HR received numerous complaints about the memo, Sophir noted, and at least two women who had interviewed for engineering jobs at the company withdrew themselves from consideration, citing Damore’s memo as the reason they didn’t want to work for Google.
Damore’s memo “argued that there were immutable biological differences between men and women that were likely responsible for the gender gap in the tech industry,” Sophir wrote. “Employers have a strong interest in promoting diversity and encouraging employees across diverse demographic groups to thrive in their workplaces. In furtherance of these legitimate interests, employers must be permitted to ‘nip in the bud’ the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a ‘hostile workplace,’ rather than waiting until an actionable hostile workplace has been created before taking action.”
Damore’s memo constituted sexual harassment, the NLRB found, despite his efforts to “cloak comments with ‘scientific references'” and his “‘not all women’ disclaimers”.
Sophir’s letter, written on January 16, ultimately recommended dismissing Damore’s complaint if he did not first withdraw it. The case was officially withdrawn on January 23.