Google has a “bro-culture” that allowed the daily sexual harassment of a female software engineer, a new lawsuit from a former employee alleges.
Loretta Lee, who worked for Google from 2008 to 2016, filed suit this month against the Silicon Valley giant for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and wrongful termination in California state court.
In the complaint, which was first published by Gizmodo, Lee alleges that she was subject to “lewd comments, pranks and even physical violence” on a daily basis, including having male colleagues spike her drinks with alcohol, shoot Nerf balls at her, send her sexually suggestive messages and, in one case, slap her in the face.
Lee was especially disturbed by an incident when she found a male co-worker on all fours beneath her desk and “believed he may have installed some type of camera or similar device under her desk”, the complaint states. The suit alleges that Google’s treatment of Lee was “consistent with a pattern and practice of ignoring sexual harassment in the workplace, making no significant efforts to take corrective action, and punishing the victim”.
“We have strong policies against harassment in the workplace and review every complaint we receive,” said Ty Sheppard, a Google spokesman, in a statement. “We take action when we find violations – including termination of employment.”
Lee’s is the latest in a string of lawsuits that have targeted the company over workplace issues involving harassment.
Google’s response to the harassment of Lee was part of the problem, according to her complaint. The engineer feared that filing a formal complaint would result in her being “ostracized” by her co-workers, but she was pressured repeatedly by human resources.
Lee’s fear of retaliation, the suit alleges, was justified when co-workers stopped approving her work. “Though she diligently wrote code, no one in her group would approve it, which stalled the entire project,” the complaint states. She was subsequently fired for poor performance.
Lee and her attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ellen Pao, the prominent tech investor who lost a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit in 2015, said on Twitter that the case was an example of “how code review can be used as a weapon of exclusion”.
Liz Fong-Jones, a site reliability engineer at Google, compared Google unfavorably to another major tech company with well-publicized workplace culture problems.
“When you’re doing worse than Uber at coming clean about and fixing the systematic problems in company culture and the significant levels of mistrust in/ineffectiveness of HR/ER,” she tweeted, “you know something has gone really wrong.”
Tell us what you think, is sexual harassment prevalent in assistive technology companies as it is in mainstream companies? We have heard some horrible stories from women in the assistive tech world who were afraid to speak out. These behaviors are simply not acceptable and need to stop.
You are not alone. 17,700,000 women have reported a sexual assault since 1998.