Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Google Engineer Files NLRB Complaint Regarding Post-Memo Termination

This case has managed to hit a bunch of labor and employment issues: A Google engineer first released a memo criticizing Google's diversity efforts and, among other things, arguing that women were biologically less suited to be engineers. It was reported within the last 24 yours that the engineer has now been fired and is exploring legal options. What those might be are questionable. Because Google is a private employer, there are no constitutional free speech rights. However, the engineer will want to explore any company policies or rules that might be interpreted as establishing contractual rights to speak one's mind or enjoy certain procedures before discipline (Google, in contrast, is already alleging that the engineer has violated its corporate conduct policies). The engineer might also have a Title VII retaliation claim if he can argue that he was objecting to illegal activity by Google, but without more facts, that seems a stretch at this point.

Interestingly, the one claim I've seen thus far is under the NLRA. There are two complaints really. First, the engineer apparently filed a complaint with the NLRB prior to his termination. I'm not sure what adverse action he's alleging, but presumably, he's also arguing that his memo was concerted and protected conduct. He does seem to be talking about workplace issues, but whether there was concerted action is less clear. It sounds like he released the memo on a company listserv, so he might be viewed as trying to instigate group action or there might have been follow-up conversations that establish concerted action, but it's not clear at present. And even if it was, Google can still argue that the memo was disruptive enough to overcome the engineer's NLRA rights. Second, the engineer alleges that his termination was in retaliation for the initial complaint. If it could prove that was Google's motivation, then it's a pretty clear violation of the NLRA. But I suspect Google won't have trouble showing that the memo--not the NLRB complaint--was the cause of the termination.

All interesting issues, so watch out for what comes next. Of course, some sort of settlement may be the most likely, as Google would probably prefer that everyone be talking about other things.

-Jeff Hirsch

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/laborprof_blog/2017/08/google-engineer-files-nlrb-complaint-regarding-post-memo-termination.html

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