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Google walkout: Workers worldwide protest handling of sexual harassment cases

Employees don't like how the search giant has dealt with claims of misconduct.

Google walkout

Google workers gathered at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, to protest the handling of sexual harassment claims.

James Martin/CNET

Google employees walked out of the company's offices around the world on Thursday in protest of the search giant's handling of sexual harassment claims -- specifically at the executive level.

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The walkout began around 11 a.m. local time in Tokyo. Other offices including Singapore, Dublin, London, Berlin, Zurich and New York followed suit at 11 a.m. in their respective time zones. The Twitter account @GoogleWalkout and hashtag #GoogleWalkout tracked the protests as they occurred across the globe.

In Mountain View, California, Google's global headquarters, employees streamed into a central plaza, near a building that houses Google CEO Sundar Pichai's office. Employees spoke at a microphone, and the crowd chanted "Time is up!" and "Stand up! Fight back!" They held up signs that said "Stand up for Google women" and "Google men stand with Google women." Some people wore "Black Lives Matter" shirts. Others wore shirts that said "Protect! Respect! Defend!" with a Google logo on the sleeve. 

The press wasn't allowed on Google's campus during the rally.

"We're really representing movements that have been at Google for a long time," Celie O'Neil-Heart, one of the walkout's organizers, told reporters. "It's much bigger than us."

Another employee echoed that sentiment. "It's not just Google," said JJ Wanda, a software engineer. "Time is up and this is the only way to do it."

Organizers said "thousands" of employees participated in the walkout worldwide.

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James Martin/CNET

Google employees also have a list of demands for Pichai and Google co-founder Larry Page, including a call to end "forced arbitration" in cases of sexual assault and harassment. Private arbitration means people waive their right to sue, and it sometimes requires confidentiality agreements. They also demanded the company release a sexual harassment transparency report that's available to the public.

When Google workers stepped out of their offices, they left behind a flier that read, "I'm not at my desk right now because I'm walking out in solidarity with Googlers and other contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency and a workplace culture that's not working for everyone."

In downtown San Francisco, roughly 1,000 employees filled Harry Bridges Plaza carrying signs that read "Don't be evil," one of Google's original mottos, and "Stop protecting #harassholes." They chanted "This is what it means to be Googley" and "Women's rights are worker's rights."  

'The camel's back'

The walkout comes one week after The New York Times published a bombshell investigative report on sexual harassment at Google. According to the Times' report, Android creator Andy Rubin was accused by a worker of having coerced her to perform oral sex on him in a hotel room in 2013. Google reportedly found the allegation to be credible. The company then asked for his resignation, gave him an exit package of $90 million, and didn't mention the misconduct in his departure announcement, according to the Times.

In response to the article, Rubin tweeted, "These false allegations are part of a smear campaign." He also said, "the story contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation."

"This is the $90 million straw that broke the camel's back," O'Neil-Heart said. 

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Google workers held signs and chanted.

James Martin/CNET

The Times story has roiled Google and stirred up anger among its workforce. Last week, Page, CEO of Google parent Alphabet, apologized to employees at a company meeting. Rich DeVaul, a director at X, Alphabet's lab that spawns experimental projects like driverless cars and smart contact lenses, resigned earlier this week. DeVaul was accused of harassment, including misconduct with a Google job candidate, according to the Times. In a statement to the paper, DeVaul apologized for an "error of judgment."

Though the walkout is in part to protest the decisions of upper management, Google's leaders are reportedly fine with the demonstration. Pichai said Google's human resources department would make sure that managers across the company were aware of the walkout and that employees had the support they needed, according to a letter to employees published by Axios.

"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."

One Google employee, Cathey Bi, who spoke at the San Francisco walkout, said she experienced sexual harassment at the company. She said she's been scared to talk about what happened to her, which is why she ultimately decided to participate in the protest. 

"I would love it if everyone felt safe talking about it," Bi said. But, "these types of changes don't happen overnight."

She declined to speak publicly about the harassment she endured. Bi said the walkout wasn't about her individual case, but rather about solidarity and change at Google.

"People don't change because of laws and policies," she said. "Laws and policies change because of people."

Another protest

The walkout is just the latest example of Google workers calling out the company over its decisions. A handful of employees have reportedly quit over reports of a project called "Dragonfly," an effort to build a censored search engine in China. And about 1,000 employees signed an open letter asking the company to be transparent about the project and to create an ethical review process for it that includes rank-and-file employees, not just high-level executives.

Employees have also pushed back against Google's decision to go after lucrative military contracts. Workers challenged the company's decision to take part in Project Maven, a Defense Department initiative aimed at developing better AI for the US military. More than 4,000 employees reportedly signed a petition addressed to Pichai demanding the company cancel the project. In June, Google said it wouldn't renew the Maven contract or pursue similar contracts.

A week later, Pichai released ethical guidelines regarding the company's development of AI. He said Google wouldn't create technology that would be used for weapons, but he said Google would still pursue work with the military.

First published Oct. 31, 5:17 p.m. PT.
Updates, 8:24 p.m.: Adds information about the flyer Google workers left at their desks; Nov. 1 at 6:17 a.m.: Includes tweets and details about the walkout in different cities around the world; 8:57 a.m.: Adds tweets from different walkouts and notes that the New York walkout had begun; 12:21 p.m.: Includes information from the San Francisco walkout; 12:42 p.m.: Adds information from Mountain View event.

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