Friday, April 12

Black women allege Google’s ‘racist culture’ in lawsuit against the company

Google fosters a work environment that marginalizes Black employees, denies people of color advancement opportunities and ignores sexual harassment claims, among other indiscretions, according to plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed against the company in California this week.

At a press conference in San Francisco on Monday, attorney Ben Crump and two former employees of the search engine behemoth detailed what they called a “racist culture” at the enterprise headquartered in Mountain View, California.

“These women tried to ring the alarm, tried to raise awareness about the discriminatory and whiskered culture,” Crump said. “And Google did not retaliate against the racist culture. Google retaliated against the victims of the racist culture.”

April Curley, a former diversity recruiter hired by Google to lure Black workers from historically Black colleges and universities, filed the lawsuit against the company, saying that during her six-year stint she witnessed people of color, including herself, typecast into jobs with no upward mobility or passed over altogether. Although she brought in 500 Black young workers to Google, she was not promoted during her time at the company, from 2014 to 2020, she said.

Worse, she further alleges in the lawsuit that there was a systemic practice of racial bias, that Black people were not “Googly” enough — meaning they did not fit the culture — and her concerns were not addressed when she raised them to supervisors. Instead, she said she was fired in 2020.

Last year, Google told NBC News that the company declined to comment on the terms of Curley’s termination but did say it disagrees with her characterization of her departure.

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Curley is seeking damages for discriminatory employment practices and policies. Crump said “many” other Black women have come forward with stories of discrimination at Google.

“Google says core value No. 1 is to work with great people,” Crump said. “When you take the allegations of these minorities, and you look at the data, then one would conclude that apparently, Google believes great people are white people. Where, with this lawsuit, we’re proclaiming to Google that Black people and brown people are great people, too.”

He added that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has launched an investigation “based on the many allegations that are being made by Black women who were employed by Google.” The department confirmed with NBC News that the investigation is underway.

At the press Curley said she was restricted to “entry level conference classification for six years” and “after being blocked for promotion, Google decided that the right next step in my career was to unjustly terminate me. . . I felt compelled to be vocal about the racist behavior, policies and practices that are deep-seated in the programmatic layers of Google’s diversity recruitment efforts and the treatment of Black” people who work there.

“I began to question the white-dominant policies and practices within Google, policies that ultimately led to under-leveling and under-paying of Black talent, policies that have led to Black people being let go at higher rates than any other group.”

Although she had recruited hundreds of young Black talent to Google, her suit says her pay was reduced by $20,000. And then she was fired during the pandemic.

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“Because of this,” Curley said Monday, “I had no choice but to sacrifice my private life by publicly acknowledging what Google did to me and countless other Black people.”

Google, which has 4.4 percent Black employees, according to its most recent internal report, has yet to respond to the allegations, which include sexual harassment. The company did not respond to NBC News’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Chloe Sledd, a graduate of Howard University, came forward two days after Curley’s suit was filed and has joined it.

She alleges in the lawsuit that she considered Google her “dream job.” But when she began her career there in 2013, “it was a nightmare almost immediately,” she said, adding that a white co-worker began to sexually harass her.

“It started off with five comments in the micro-kitchen and hallways and grew to sexually explicit messages over the company chat,” Sledd said at the Monday press conference. “As a new mixed Black female employee in a company of less than 1 percent of people who looked like me, I was terrified of losing my job.”

She confided in a male co-worker who brushed it off and told her to ignore the unwanted advances, she said. The harassment intensified. Sledd said she informed human resources, and the HR person, a woman, made her feel like she had caused the harassment.

“After that interview, I never heard anything,” she said. “I never got a formal response from the company addressing my experiences and offering any kind of results. The white male continued his job at Google and I was expected to maintain the same performance despite being a victim of sexual harassment on their watch.”

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The environment in the office “was so white-dominant, and racial insensitivity was common in their day-to-day chatter. So when I tried to speak up about that, our head of our team told me not to complain and to ‘just get along.’ … It was awful.”

But not over, according to the lawsuit. Sledd was moved to a different department and said that she was promised a promotion and supervisor role several times. However, the job went to a white co-worker who was less experienced, Sledd said.

The lack of support from management sent a clear message. “They wanted me out… Not one person at Google directly addressed me about my concerns,” she said. “They were willing to allow me to be sexually harassed by one male, but they were also going to let me get racially harassed by the company at large. I was totally unprotected and unsafe.”

She eventually resigned. “They came up with reasons why they were concerned about my performance,” Sledd said, “which was odd because I had just received the highest possible rating in the quarter. I didn’t realize what my rights were and they took advantage of that.”

“And just like that,” she continued, “what was once my dream job that I worked so hard for became one of my darkest, most traumatizing memories.”

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