The computer engineer fired by Google for suggesting women are less suited to certain roles in tech and leadership is considering taking legal action against the company.
James Damore, a chess master who studied at Harvard, Princeton and MIT and worked at the search engine’s Mountain View HQ in California, caused outrage when he circulated a manifesto at the weekend complaining about Google’s “ideological echo chamber” and claiming women have lower tolerance of stress and that conservatives are more conscientious.
He was fired on Monday after the search giant’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, said portions of Damore’s 10-page memo “violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes”.
Damore has now said he would “likely be pursuing legal action”.
“I have a right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behaviour, which is what my document does,” he said in an email reported by the New York Times.
In a further email to the rightwing website Breitbart, he reportedly said: “They just fired me for ‘perpetuating gender stereotypes’.”
Damore had argued in a document circulated internally and then leaked that “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct mono-culture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence”.
He said: “The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes, and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
The senior software engineer had worked at Google since 2013 and had previously studied computational biology at Princeton, Harvard and the University of Illinois where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2010 in the top 3% of his class, according to his CV posted online.
In his memo, subtitled “How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion”, he said he wanted to increase women’s representation in tech without resorting to discrimination.
He complained that “discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons and school dropouts”.
His suggestions included the company making tech and leadership less stressful because “women are on average more prone to anxiety”.
His dismissal followed outrage in Silicon Valley because Damore sought to explain the gender imbalance in the tech industry as a function of biological difference.
But it has also sparked a conservative backlash, with Breitbart and other rightwing websites rushing to Damore’s defence.
Breitbart quoted an anonymous employee who claimed that “the diversity gospel has been woven into nearly everything the company does, to the point where senior leaders focus on diversity first and technology second.
“For conservative employees, this is obviously demoralising, but it is also dangerous. Several have been driven out of the company or fired outright for sharing a dissenting view.”
Eric Weinstein, managing director of Trump advocate Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm, wrote an open missive to Google asking it to “stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR”.
While many condemned his note, some Google staff defended Damore, taking to anonymous message boards such as the workplace gossip app Blind to share their views.
“Can we go back to the time when Silicon Valley [was] about nerds and geeks, that’s why I applied [to] Google and came to the US. I mean this industry used to be a safe place for people like us,” wrote one on the app, which requires users to prove they are from the company they claim to be part of when signing up.
Public comments, however, were much more critical, with Google employees tweeting that “the internal response to the doc ranges from anger and disgust, to sadness”, and “it went viral because 99% of people wanted to comment about how unsupported/wrong/hurtful the doc was”.
Google is in a difficult position because it accepted that “much of what was in the memo is fair to debate”.
Pichai said in a note to colleagues on Monday: “People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo – such as the portions criticising Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace and debating whether programmes for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all – are important topics.”
Google’s vice president of diversity, integrity and governance, Danielle Brown, said Google was right to take a stand on building an open inclusive environment, but recognised “strong stands elicit strong reactions”.
She said part of being open was “fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions”. But she said that needed to work alongside principles of equal employment and anti-discrimination laws.
Some legal observers have questioned whether Google has broken employment law by firing Damore.
Dan Eaton, an employment lawyer, in San Diego wrote on CNBC: “Federal labour law bars even non-union employers like Google from punishing an employee for communicating with fellow employees about improving working conditions … California law prohibits employers from threatening to fire employees to get them to adopt or refrain from adopting a particular political course of action.”
He also said” “It is unlawful for an employer to discipline an employee for challenging conduct that the employee reasonably believed to be discriminatory, even when a court later determines the conduct was not actually prohibited by the discrimination laws.”