A former Google engineer is suing the company for discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination, according to court documents filed today. Tim Chevalier, a software developer and former site-reliability engineer at Google, claims that Google fired him when he responded with internal posts and memes to racist and sexist encounters within the company and the general response to the now-infamous James Damore memo. News of Chevalier’s lawsuit was reported earlier today by Gizmodo.
Chevalier said in a statement to The Verge, “It is a cruel irony that Google attempted to justify firing me by claiming that my social networking posts showed bias against my harassers.” Chevalier, who is also disabled and transgender, alleges that his internal posts that defended women of color and marginalized people led directly to his termination in November 2017. He had worked at Google for a little under two years.
Notably, Chevalier’s posts had been quoted in Damore’s lawsuit against Google — in which Damore sued the company for discrimination against conservative white men — as evidence Google permitted liberals to speak out at the company unpunished. Chevalier’s lawsuit alleges that his firing is, in fact, a form of punishment. (Damore recently had a separate labor board complaint shot down by the US National Labor Relations Board, which stated in a guidance memo that Google was in the right to fire him.)
In a statement, Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano says Google was enforcing its policy against the promotion of harmful stereotypes. “An important part of our culture is lively debate. But like any workplace, that doesn’t mean anything goes. All employees acknowledge our code of conduct and other workplace policies, under which promoting harmful stereotypes based on race or gender is prohibited” Scigliano says. “This is a very standard expectation that most employers have of their employees. The overwhelming majority of our employees communicate in a way that is consistent with our policies. But when an employee does not, it is something we must take seriously. We always make our decision without any regard to the employee’s political views.”
One of the internal memes Chevalier created was inspired by a black Google employee, who wrote in an internal Google Plus post that she was being asked to present her ID badge more often than her white co-workers. A Google employee allegedly responded to the post by noting that asking for ID was just part of the job, Gizmodo reported. Chevalier then made a privilege-denying dude meme using Google’s internal meme generator with the caption, “I have opinions about forms of oppression that don’t affect me.”
Chevalier was told he was engaging in too much “social activism” at Google
In September, Chevalier’s acting manager told him repeatedly he was engaging in too much “social activism,” the suit alleges.
The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court and Chevalier is seeking damages for lost wages, emotional distress, punitive damages, and injunctive relief against those alleged harmful acts. One of Chevalier’s attorneys, David Lowe, stated that Chevalier’s termination was a result of Google failing to rein in its mostly unfiltered internal social networks. “Company social networking forums can be incredibly useful, but employers have an obligation to prevent them from becoming a cesspool of bullying and harassment,” Lowe said in a press release.
Last August, Chevalier and 13 other Google employees were also targeted by alt-right trolls as part of a widespread backlash against Damore’s firing. A 4chan-related Twitter account posted a screenshot of the employees’ Twitter profiles, all of whom were of color, women, or trans men. These profiles then became targets of online harassment, some of which Chevalier details in his complaint.
Update at 7:45PM ET, 2/21: Added statement from Google.
Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed a statement to Tim Chevalier; it has been removed.