“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,” a Google spokesperson said on Monday.
Last week, a memo written by a disgruntled Google employee titled I’m Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why was sent out. Since then, it’s jumped from the internal message boards at Google to the public World Wide Web.
With near-universal support from the Google staff, the memo struck a nerve with the company that just staged a worldwide walkout in November to protest exit packages paid to male staff members accused of sexual harassment.
In the letter, the unidentified woman alleges she had a stellar reputation within the company and was rated “superb” and “strongly exceeds” during several of her performance reviews. Then, however, she spoke out against her manager for comments the manager made regarding a pregnant employee’s work ethic.
Following the letter-writer’s comments to Google’s HR department, however, the letter writer says she was mistreated. The woman’s manager shared “reputation-damaging remarks” about her with people in senior positions and “actively interview[ed] candidates to replace” her.
After allegedly suffering these humiliations for about a month, the woman was reassured by a vice president at the company that her manager was going to be transferred to another team. This never happened. Instead, the woman was eventually transferred to a new team, 4 months prior to when she was supposed to go on maternity leave.
On her new team, the woman claims she told that her own maternity leave would “stress the team” and “rock the boat.” As a result, she claims she was given significantly less responsibility than she had previously enjoyed. A few weeks after joining this new team, the woman was diagnosed with a pregnancy-related condition that would force her to take maternity leave earlier than expected. She also told her new manager that her doctor had suggested bed rest, to which her new manager responded that she heard “on NPR” that bed rest is unnecessary.
Four months following her original complaint, the woman says she received an email from HR saying that while her original manager did a “poor job communicating,” there was no evidence of discrimination.
While it’s unclear whether or not this letter will lead to a lawsuit, Misty Marris, an employment attorney who appears on the Law&Crime Network and who is not involved in the matter, says that “retaliation is the most common claim raised” in situations like this. Legally, retaliation is when action is taken against an employee because they made a protected complaint. An example of a protected complaint could be something like alleged discriminatory conduct.
“In a case like this, the critical fact is the timing between the protected complaint and the adverse action. Also, in litigation, job performance and other factors would be key,” Marris continued. “It’s important to note that you don’t have to get fired to have a claim for a valid retaliation claim. A demotion or even a bad review can be enough. Based on the letter, the big problem for Google will be that the writer seems to have had stellar job reviews until she complained.”
As for Google’s chances should this matter be brought court, Marris says the company will need to “be vigilant in their internal investigation,” as “juries not look kindly on employers who don’t follow their own policies and protocols.”
[Photo via Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images.]