Google activists point to ‘hostile’ work environment after walkout

But the internet giant has denied claims of ‘retaliation’ against protest organisers

Google activists point to ‘hostile’ work environment after walkout

Two staff members at Google who helped organise employee protests in late 2018 have spoken out against alleged retaliation from management – but the internet giant has denied all claims, a new report revealed.

In an email circulated among colleagues, Meredith Whittaker of Open Research and Claire Stapleton of YouTube detailed their interactions with management, pointing to a “hostile” environment at the company, tech news website Wired reported.

Whittaker and Stapleton were among seven employees who led a walkout in November, which later sparked global outrage against Google’s purported mishandling of sexual misconduct claims. The protest was participated in by an estimated 20,000 workers.

Whittaker claimed Google had asked her to “abandon” her projects in ethical AI – including her role at the New York University research hub AI Now Institute – if she wished to remain with Google.

After the tech giant shut down its external AI ethics council earlier this month, Whittaker was allegedly notified her role would be “changed dramatically”.

Stapleton, on the other hand, was informed she would be demoted from her post as marketing manager at YouTube a couple of months after the walkout. She allegedly received further retaliation when she reported the case to HR.

“My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton said in the email.

The Google activist said she hired a lawyer, prompting the company to probe the matter and backtrack on her demotion. “While my work has been restored,” she said, “the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.”

Google, however, denied claims of retaliation. A representative of the company issued a statement, explaining: “Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganized, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here.”

Whittaker and Stapleton will reportedly hold a ‘town hall’ meeting on Friday to share their experience.

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