Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, two employees from Alphabet (GOOG) unit Google, are alleging that they are facing retaliation from company management after helping organized a mass walkout in November 2018 in protest against the company’s treatment of sexual harassment, according to multiple media reports, citing a letter shared internally with co-workers on Monday.
Whittaker, who leads Google’s Open Research, said that after the company disbanded its external AI ethics council earlier this month, she was informed that her role would be “changed dramatically.”
“I’m told that to remain at the company I will have to abandon my work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute, which I cofounded, and which has been doing rigorous and recognized work on these topics. I have worked on issues of AI ethics and bias for years, and am one of the people who helped shape the field looking at these problems. I have also taken risks to push for a more ethical Google, even when this is less profitable or convenient,” Whittaker said.
Stapleton, who has been with the company for 12 years, said in an email that two months following the walkout, she was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube and lose half her reports and that a project that was approved was “no longer on the table.”
After escalating the incident to human resources and to her vice president, Stapleton said she faced further retaliation.
“My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick.”
“Only after I hired a lawyer and had her contact Google did management conduct an investigation and walked back my demotion, at least on paper. While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day,” Stapleton shared.
In response to the allegations, a Google spokeswoman said, “we prohibit retaliation in the workplace, and investigate all allegations.”
“Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganized, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here.”