Google employees say that they have been targeted by the company after organizing internal protests against Google’s handling of sexual harassment claims.
The widening dispute centers around Google employees Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker who played lead roles in a massive walkout last fall that was designed to protest Google’s actions after top managers were accused of sexual harassment, The New York Times reported.
Stapleton, a marketing manager at YouTube, said in a letter shared with employees that Google tried to demote her. She said that after she hired a lawyer to fight back, Google “walked back my demotion, at least on paper,” but “the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.”
Stapleton also said that the human resources division told her to go on sick leave, even though she wasn’t sick, according to Bloomberg.
Whittaker, a researcher who specializes in artificial intelligence, said she had also been “informed my role would be changed dramatically.”
Whittaker said she was told to “abandon my work on AI ethics.”
A report from the AI Now Institute Whittaker founded attacked current AI models.
“The AI industry needs to acknowledge the gravity of its diversity problem, and admit that existing methods have failed to contend with the uneven distribution of power, and the means by which AI can reinforce such inequality,” the report said.
“Further, many researchers have shown that bias in AI systems reflects historical patterns of discrimination. These are two manifestations of the same problem, and they must be addressed together.”
Whittaker also joined in an employee protest that opposed putting Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James on an AI ethics council being developed by Google. The project was later abandoned.
Google denied any pattern of retaliation.
“We prohibit retaliation in the workplace, and investigate all allegations. 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,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement.
Stapleton and Whittaker held a meeting last Friday and shared stories of others who have faced internal retribution, Bloomberg reported.
“Now more than ever we need to reject retaliation, and reject the culture of fear and silence that retaliation creates. The stakes are too high,” read an email from the organizers.
I’m so grateful for your support. I remain staunchly committed to my work @AINowInstitute. Google’s retaliation isn’t about me, or @clairewaves. It’s about silencing dissent & making us afraid to speak honestly about tech & power. NOT OK. Now more than ever, it’s time to speak up
— Meredith Whittaker (@mer__edith) April 23, 2019
During the Friday meeting, Whittaker issued a statement explaining what happened to her, The Daily Caller reported
“What changed between the years in which my work at AI Now received support and encouragement at Google and now is that I began to organize,” her statement said.
“I have received ‘exceeds expectations’ in perf for the last 3 years, all of these ratings related to the value of my work at AI Now, and the significant contributions that my work has made to AI ethics at Google and the wider world. … But after helping organize the Walkout, things suddenly changed,” she said.
She claimed that during a March meeting she was told by her manager that there are “two kinds of people at Google … those who quit and those who stay and hate every minute of it and try to destroy it.”
“I was taken aback, since my work has always aimed to ensure that Google lived up to its purported values, and treated its workforce, and the rest of the world, with respect,” she said in her statement.
Wired reported that Stapleton accused the company of trying to destroy her credibility by claiming it was not demoting her when, in fact, her number of direct reports was reduced.
There are plans for a “company-wide day of action” to take place on May 1.
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