The US National Labor Relations Board says Google fired the author of a controversial diversity memo not to silence a dissenter, but over "unprotected discriminatory statements."
Google didn't break the law when it fired James Damore over a memo that criticized the company's diversity policies and claimed tech's gender gap may be due to biological differences between men and women.
That's the word this week from a lawyer with the US National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees employment practices.
Before his firing, Damore had filed a complaint with the NLRB that charged Google with "misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints."
But in an agency memorandum made public Thursday, an NLRB lawyer said Google fired the computer engineer not for expressing dissenting views or criticism, but over "unprotected discriminatory statements" in his memo, which he'd posted to internal discussion forums at the tech giant.
"Employers have a strong interest in promoting diversity and encouraging employees across diverse demographic groups to thrive in their workplaces," attorney Jayme Sophir wrote in the memorandum (PDF), originally penned in January. "Employers must be permitted to 'nip in the bud' the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a 'hostile workplace.'"
Damore withdrew the NLRB complaint last month to focus on a lawsuit against Google.
The company fired Damore last August for a memo in which he criticized Google's inclusion and diversity policies and accused the tech giant of having a left-leaning "monoculture" that led to an "ideological echo chamber." Damore has since become a poster child for conservatives in the debate over identity politics.
Damore's memo also said tech's male-skewed employment ranks may be due to biological differences between the sexes. Among other things, it said women can't handle stress as well, which may account for the lower number of them in high-pressure jobs. It said, too, that women "have more openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas."
Critics have said Damore cherry-picked research to support his point of view and that there's no evidence women in tech are less capable than men.
Damore's memo made headlines before his firing when it was obtained by the press after it had gone viral within Google and caused outrage there. The continuing debate over the memo and Damore's sacking is part of a larger argument in which some critics attack Silicon Valley for a sexist, "brogrammer" culture, while others accuse the Valley of being a "one-party state" that's intolerant of conservative viewpoints.
The day Damore was dismissed, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in his own memo to employees that parts of Damore's missive "violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."
First published Feb. 17, 5:05 p.m. PT
Update, Feb. 22 at 11:19 a.m.: Adds a link to Damore's website and a quote from his memo.
Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."
Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.