Three former Google engineers — Rebecca Rivers, Sophie Waldman and Paul Duke — are suing the search giant for slander, breach of contract and termination in violation of public policy. The lawsuit, filed on Monday in Santa Clara County, comes two years after they were fired.
Rivers, Waldman and Duke were terminated in November 2019 after months of publicly protesting Google policies, including the company’s “intent to enter into a contract with the Trump administration’s Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) … which they understood were responsible for e.g. separating children from their parents, ‘caging’ immigrants, unlawfully detaining refugees and engaging in other human rights causes,” according to the lawsuit. A fourth employee who was fired at the same time, Laurence Berland, settled with Google separately and is not a plaintiff in the case.
Google said at the time of the firings that the Thanksgiving Four were fired for “clear and repeated violations of our data security policies,” and that they had been engaged in “systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work” — allegations the employees dispute.The Google employees are among hundreds of young tech workers who are becoming increasingly activist about their companies’ stances on hiring, diversity, social justice and a range of other issues, from work for government agencies to policies on geopolitical issues including censorship in China. Staff members have also challenged management decisions at Apple, Facebook and Netflix, among other companies.
The slander allegation in the three former Google employees’ lawsuit was filed on behalf of former staff member Rebecca Rivers, specifically. The complaint names senior vice president of global affairs at Google Kent Walker and vice president of global security Chris Rackow, asserting that they made “statements internally to all Google employees internationally, and caused to be repeated externally through the media, false and misleading statements regarding Plaintiff Rivers.” Walker’s and Rackow’s statements to the media “caused significant damage to Rivers’ reputation and ability to become gainfully employed,” the lawsuit says.Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on behalf of the company and the two executives.
Some Google employees have contended that dismissal of the Thanksgiving Four was the company’s way of discouraging organizing activity among employees — but the action did little to quell restive employees. In January, about 400 employees announced that they had formed a trade union. Called the Alphabet Workers Union, the group says it now has over 800 members.
The lawsuit was filed by Laurie Burgess, an attorney who is also representing former Netflix employees Terra Field and B. Pagels-Minor, both of whom spoke out against the streaming giant’s decision to air Dave Chapelle’s comedy episode, The Closer. Members of the trans community and its allies have said that the 72-minute episode contains transphobic content that promotes bigotry.