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  • Organizers of the 20,000 people-strong Nov. walkout accuse Google of punishing them for leading the worldwide protests.

    Organizers of the 20,000 people-strong Nov. walkout accuse Google of punishing them for leading the worldwide protests. | Photo: Reuters file

Published 3 May 2019

Last year’s walkout was planned after Google reportedly paid ex-Android exec Andy Rubin US$90 million in severance following a sexual assault claim made against.

Employees of tech giant Google participated in a sit-in Wednesday to express displeasure and denounce ‘company retaliation’ after a walkout prompted by a Nov. 2018 sexual assault claim made against an executive.

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"Hundreds of people showed up to the @google NYC anti-retaliation sit-in, planned in under 24hrs. So many brave people shared their stories. There were tears and talk of unions," Meredith Whittaker, one of the organizers of the original walkout and the sit-in, tweeted.

Two of the seven organizers of the 20,000 people-strong Nov. walkout accused Google, in internal emails, of punishing them for leading the worldwide protests, according to Wired which also cited walkout leaders who recounted being demoted or suffering diminished job duties.

"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 release from the sit-in coordinators stated.

Whittaker, who is the founder and lead of Google’s Open Research group, told Wired that she was advised that her role at the company would be “changed dramatically,” and told to “abandon” her work on artificial intelligence (AI) ethics and her role at AI Now Institute, which she co-founded.

“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," another organizer, Claire Stapleton, recalled and added that she was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube.

The protesting group of Google workers compared similar stories of alleged retaliation during the sit-in, some of which were published in a Medium post.

"The Google NYC anti-retaliation sit-in was POWERFUL. We're hearing similar reports from Cambridge, London, & Pittsburgh. More to come as we move across time zones and more employees act to say retaliation is #NotOkGoogle," the organizers’ account, Google Walkout For Real Change, tweeted.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that over 200 employees participated in the New York sit-in and that workers in international offices, including London, also took part. "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," the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, other employees showed solidarity by calling in sick or setting "Out of Office" email messages in protest of the alleged targeting of the walkout’s organizers.

Last year’s original walkout was planned after a New York Times report that Google had paid former Android exec Andy Rubin US$90 million in severance following a sexual assault claim made against him by a colleague.

One week after the Nov. walkout Google announced it would drop forced arbitration for sexual misconduct cases, enabling victims to sue in open court.

However, on April 25, Google's Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker sent a company-wide email to employees about its new workplace policies.

Google, at the time, announced that it will streamline the way employees can report concerns, including temporary workers and company vendors, internally publish an annual Investigations Report of misconduct revelations, and provide more support to employees raising complaints or prompting investigations.

Google's alleged retaliation is currently the subject of a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board. It is against federal law to threaten employees with "adverse consequences" for engaging in "protected, concerted activity."

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