Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Alphabet’s board has opened an internal investigation into how the company handles claims of sexual harassment and misconduct, forming both an independent subcommittee that will investigate as well as hiring an external law firm, according to a report from CNBC.
The investigation comes after a series of reports over the past year around sexual harassment by high-level Google and Alphabet executives, including:
Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond. Drummond was revealed to have had an affair with former Google lawyer Jennifer Blakely in violation of the company’s policies regarding relationships between managers and their team members. According to Blakely, the relationship resulted in a child, after which Google’s HR department informed the pair that one of them would have to leave the legal department — which turned out to be Blakely, who moved to sales.
Andy Rubin, one of the founders of Android. Rubin was reportedly forced to resign in 2014 by Larry Page following allegations that Rubin had coerced another Google employee into “performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013,” according to a New York Times expose on sexual harassment issues at Google. Rubin received a $90 million payout upon leaving the company.
Rich DeVaul, the former Director of Rapid Evaluation and Mad Science at Alphabet’s X division. DeVaul was also named in the Times report, which claimed that he had invited a potential Google hire to Burning Man and encouraged her to remove her clothing and give him a massage. DeVaul resigned shortly after.
Amit Singhal, a former senior search vice president, to whom Google confirmed that it had paid out $15 million in severance after he was accused of sexual harassment.
“As has already been confirmed in public court filings, in early 2019, Alphabet’s Board of Directors formed a special litigation committee to consider claims made by shareholders in various lawsuits relating to past workplace conduct,” commented an Alphabet spokesperson in response to the announcement.
CEO Sundar Pichai and Eileen Naughton (Google’s VP of people operations) responded to the New York Times expose last October by noting that, at the time, 48 employees had been fired over the prior two years without severance and that 13 of those people were “senior managers or above.”
Despite this, the on-going reports of sexual harassment have led to increased tensions with the company. 20,000 Google employees would go on to stage a walkout in response to the Times report on November 1st, 2018. Two of the organizers of that walkout, Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, later reported retaliation from Google earlier this year over that walkout. Stapleton announced in June that she had decided to leave the company entirely due to retaliation, while Whittaker left in July to focus on her work on AI ethics, saying “it’s clear Google isn’t a place where I can continue this work.”
Google has remained largely silent on the subject of each new accusation, but taken together, it’s easy to understand why parent company Alphabet is interested in investigating how these cases are handled going forward.
Update November 6th, 6:35pm: Added Alphabet spokesperson statement.