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Google accused of threatening employees' jobs over leaks

An email from a Google exec counseled employees not to share confidential information with reporters, court papers allege.

Google is accused of threatening employees who leak confidential information to reporters.
Claudia Cruz/CNET

A Google executive threatened to terminate employees who shared internal information with journalists, according to a lawsuit filed against the tech giant.

Court papers filed earlier this month in San Francisco Superior Court allege the threat came in the form of an email sent to Google employees by Brian Katz, head of investigations at the company. The email was in response to a leak of internal jokes about Nest CEO Tony Fadell and the transcript of an open meeting he held with Google employees, according to the filing, first noticed by The Register.

"If you're considering sharing confidential information to a reporter - or to anyone externally - for the love of all that's Googley, please reconsider!" Katz allegedly wrote in the email. "Not only could it cost you your job, but it also betrays the values that makes us a community."

It's not unusual for tech companies to have confidentiality agreements with employees to discourage leaks of internal information, but the anonymous plaintiff said he didn't leak any information to the press. The lawsuit, filed in December, claims Google's confidentiality agreements violate California labor laws.

Google said its confidentiality agreements are designed to protect its business.

"We're very committed to transparency and having an open culture, which means we frequently share with employees confidential details of product launches and other types of sensitive, proprietary business information," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "Our employee confidentiality policies are designed to protect that information, without preventing employees from disclosing information about their terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns."

The lawsuit paints a culture of secrecy in contrast to the company's whimsical public image, buoyed by its "don't be evil" mantra and well-known perks like free food. Another lawsuit filed last year with the National Labor Relations Board complained about similar issues.

This suit was filed by the same employee, according to The Information. That report calculated that if the complaint is successful, Google could be on the hook for up to $3.8 billion in penalties.

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