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Google walkout organizer who alleged retaliation leaves company

Claire Stapleton's parting words to Google: “I hope that leadership listens. Because if they won’t lead, we will.”

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Claire Stapleton, a Google walkout organizer, says she left the company this week.

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A Google employee who said she was unfairly targeted by the search giant for her organizing efforts has left the company.

Claire Stapleton, a marketing manager at Google-owned YouTube, left the search giant this week after 12 years, she said Friday.

Stapleton was instrumental in organizing November's historic Google walkout. The protest saw 20,000 Googlers walk out of the company's offices worldwide to protest its handling of sexual assault allegations directed at key executives. The demonstration drew international attention.

In April, Stapleton said she was told after the walkout she'd be demoted and lose half of her reports. She said she was also told to go on medical leave even though she wasn't sick. Google only walked back her demotion after she hired a lawyer, Stapleton said.

"These past few months have been unbearably stressful and confusing," Stapleton wrote in a blog post Friday. "But they've been eye-opening, too: the more I spoke up about what I was experiencing, the more I heard, and the more I understood how universal these issues are."

Google on Friday denied claims of retaliation. "We thank Claire for her work at Google and wish her all the best," a spokesperson said in a statement. "To reiterate, we don't tolerate retaliation. Our employee relations team did a thorough investigation of her claims and found no evidence of retaliation. They found that Claire's management team supported her contributions to our workplace, including awarding her their team Culture Award for her role in the Walkout."

Last month, on the six-month anniversary of the walkout, Stapleton and other Google workers staged a sit-in to call attention to the alleged retaliation from Google management. Another walkout organizer, Meredith Whittaker, who leads Google's Open Research program, said she was asked to choose between Google and her outside work. Whittaker co-founded New York University's AI Now Institute, a research center that examines the societal effects of artificial intelligence. Whittaker said Google asked her to give up that work after the company disbanded its own AI ethics board in March amid controversy over one of its members.

"By pushing [Stapleton] out, Google's trying to stop a movement," Whittaker tweeted Friday. "But that's not how it works -- badge or no, Claire isn't going away, nor are the 1000s organizing across the company."

Google employees have largely been the poster children for protest in the tech industry -- a sector where rank-and-file workers have historically refrained from publicly criticizing management. Aside from the handling of sexual assault accusations, Google workers have also protested the company's military contracts, its work in China, and its treatment of temporary workers and contractors.

Stapleton said she hopes Google employees keep organizing after she's left the company.

"It is my greatest hope in leaving that people continue to speak up and talk to each other, stand up for one another and for what's right, and keep building the collective voice," she wrote. "I hope that leadership listens. Because if they won't lead, we will."

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