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Google employees walk out to protest treatment of women

Posted: 10:34 AM, Nov 01, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-01 17:34:10Z

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Carrying signs with messages such as "Don't be evil," Google employees around the world walked off the job Thursday in a protest against what they said is the tech company's mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives.

Employees staged walkouts at offices from Tokyo to Singapore to London. Hundreds protested outside Google's office in New York, and others were expected to do so in California later in the day.

In Dublin, organizers used megaphones to address the crowd of men and women to express their support for victims of sexual harassment. Other workers shied away from the media spotlight, with people gathering instead indoors, in packed conference rooms or lobbies, to show their solidarity with abuse victims.

Protesters in New York carried signs with such messages as "Not OK Google" and the company's one-time motto, "Don't Be Evil." Many employees outside Google's New York offices cited job security in refusing to talk.

In an unsigned statement from organizers, sent from a company account, protesters called for an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination. They also want Google to commit to ending pay inequity and to create a publicly disclosed sexual harassment report and a clearer process for reporting complaints.

The organizers said Google has publicly championed diversity and inclusion but hasn't take enough action.

The protests are the latest backlash against men's exploitation of female subordinates in business, entertainment, technology and politics. In Silicon Valley, women also are becoming fed up with the male-dominated composition of the technology industry's workforce — an imbalance that critics say fosters frat-house behavior by men.

The Google protest unfolded a week after a New York Times story detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google's Android software, Andy Rubin. The report said Rubin received a $90 million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the sexual misconduct allegations against him were credible.

Rubin denied the allegations in a tweet.

The same story also disclosed allegations of sexual misconduct against other executives, including Richard DeVaul, a director at the Google-affiliated lab that created such projects as self-driving cars and internet-beaming balloons. DeVaul had remained at the "X'' lab after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced about him a few years ago, but he resigned Tuesday without severance, Google said.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologized for the company's "past actions" in an email sent to employees Tuesday.

"I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel," Pichai wrote. "I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society ... and, yes, here at Google, too."

The email didn't mention the reported incidents involving Rubin, DeVaul or anyone else at Google, but Pichai didn't dispute anything in the Times story.

In an email last week, Pichai and Eileen Naughton, Google's executive in charge of personnel issues, sought to reassure workers that the company had cracked down on sexual misconduct since Rubin's departure four years ago.

Among other things, Pichai and Naughton said Google had fired 48 employees, including 13 senior managers, for sexual harassment in recent years without giving any of them severance packages.

But Thursday's walkout could signal that a significant number of the 94,000 employees working for Google and its corporate parent Alphabet Inc. remained unconvinced that the company is doing enough to adhere to Alphabet's own advice to employees in its corporate code of conduct: "Do the right thing."

The latest complaints from employees are part of a wider discontent at Google and other Silicon Valley companies, though much of the complaints so far have been aired not at public protests but at company town halls, internal message boards and petitions that got leaked.

In August, more than 1,000 Google employees signed a letter protesting the company's plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship rules.

Earlier, thousands signed a petition asking Pichai to cancel Project Maven, which provides the Pentagon with the company's artificially intelligent algorithms to interpret video images and improve the targeting of drone strikes. Google later said it won't renew the contract, according to published reports.

A Silicon Valley congresswoman tweeted her support of the Google walkout using the #MeToo hashtag that has become a battle cry for women fighting sexual misconduct.

"Why do they think it's OK to reward perpetrators & further violate victims?" asked Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who represents a well-to-do district where many of Google's employees live.

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AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York and Matt O'Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.