In August 2017, Google engineer James Damore was thrust into the international spotlight when he wrote a controversial memo blasting the tech giant's diversity policies; the company subsequently fired him. On January 8, 2018, Damore filed a lawsuit against Google, alleging the company discriminates against white, conservative men. The suit, like the memo that proceeded it, has ignited a heated discussion about diversity policies and free speech issues in business; how efforts to right gender and racial disparities in the workplace are handled; and the "alienation" that straight white men feel when others start to have advantages and opportunities that have traditionally been handed only to other straight white men.
Damore is not the first fired employee suing Google, but his lawsuit is certainly the most high-profile. He levels some shocking - and grossly misinformed - claims against his former employer, much of them rooted in fear and plain old bigotry. As the popular phrase goes, "When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."
He Wrote His Initial 'Memo' After Taking Part In A Diversity Program At Google
Damore was on a flight to China after attending a Google diversity program when he started writing the memo that would generate worldwide attention and backlash. The memorandum, however, is more of a manifesto, leveling accusation after accusation against Google and their attempts to create a more equitable workplace. The piece, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," reads like the thoughts of an internet troll who uses big words and knows the difference between you're and your; so, in that regard, it is pretty remarkable. As a thoughtful call-to-action, it is far less successful.
He Said Google's Efforts To Have Equal Race And Gender Representation Are Discriminatory
The whole basis of Damore's lawsuit is that Google's programs and policies aimed at equaling their racial and gender representation are discriminatory again white men. "This is the essence of discrimination," the suit reads. "Google formed opinions about and then treated Plaintiffs not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in groups with assumed characteristics."
Upon first glance, a sentence like this might seem to hold water; dig a little deeper, and it smacks of the plaintiff's bigotry. For example, this "individual merit" stance is the same one that has been used for decades to stifle Affirmative Action programs and similar initiatives set out to even the playing field. It's an unoriginal argument that serves as a dog-whistle for all those trapped in the same mindset as Damore.
The Data Doesn't Match His Claims
If there were some rationale - or even plain old facts - to back up the majority of Damore's assertions, his lawsuit would be more compelling. The claims Damore makes in his lawsuit don't match the hard data about the tech industry. "The science cited in the Google engineer’s memo is flawed," wrote science journalist Angela Saini. "Weak scientific evidence and empty theories are still being used to support troubling ideologies."
The Tech Industry Is Overwhelmingly White And Male
The most glaring thing Damore gets wrong is his position that white men are some dying breed in Silicon Valley. The tech industry as a whole is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. Though women comprise half of the American workforce, they only make up about a quarter of technological and math-related industries. In these same industries, black and Hispanic people only hold about 15% of the jobs. So no, Damore, you are not in danger.
He Blamed 'Biological Differences' For The Lack Of Women In Tech
One of the more infuriating aspects of Damore's claims is his opinion that biological differences between men and women make women less suitable for tech jobs. Women, he said, "have a stronger interest in people rather than things," and they "prefer jobs in social or artistic areas."
The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, fired back at this accusation. While Pichai admitted "much of what was in that memo is fair to debate," he took issue with the idea that one gender or racial group is predisposed to tech industry work while other genders and races are not. "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK." And it's not just offensive, it's not just not-OK. It's not backed up by any solid science.
Damore's Co-Plaintiff Described Google's Diversity Policies As 'Slavery'
Damore is joined in his lawsuit by another plaintiff, former Google employee David Gudeman. Gudeman has long been critical of Google's diversity policies, likening them to slavery. The policies, he said, are akin to what "slave owners would have written for their slaves to help them understand how to interact with their masters." If nothing else, you have to give Gudeman and Damore credit for knowing how to whip the Fox News/Trump base into a frenzy. It's insane, inflammatory, over-the-top statements like Gudeman's that prevent any civil discussion... and Gudeman and Damore surely know that.