The Google Manifesto and the Next Civil Rights Movement

All sorts of people have weighed in on Google’s firing of software engineer James Damore after he published and internal memo criticizing the internet giant’s culture of political correctness, arguing that the way in which the company seeks diversity is flawed, and contending that the gender gap in tech employment is not based solely on discrimination and may be partially due to biological differences.

Rather than rehash those arguments I want to focus on a less-discussed aspect to the story: Damore almost certainly anticipated his dismissal and taking legal action against Google over it.

As the NYT reports:

Mr. Damore, who worked on infrastructure for Google’s search product, said he believed that the company’s actions were illegal and that he would “likely be pursuing legal action.”

“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Mr. Damore said.


Before being fired, Mr. Damore said, he had submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Google’s upper management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” He added that it was ‘illegal to retaliate’ against an N.L.R.B. charge.”

Those quotes almost certainly reflect someone who consulted an attorney, if the filing of an NLRB complaint before his dismissal to add a count for retaliation wasn’t a giveaway.  Those versed in labor law offer more skeptical and less skeptical opinions regarding his odds of success.

It’s possible that Damore didn’t consult counsel before publishing his memo, insofar as he might have drafted it in a manner to bring it more obviously within the ambit of federal labor law, which brings me to my larger point.

I have argued that the Right would do well to organize the next civil rights movement.  Litigation would be a part of this movement.  To be sure, there are some right-leaning public-interest litigation groups doing important work regarding the civil rights of college students and such, but (afaik) there’s no broad effort or grand strategy in place to address the institutional problems of higher education, the Fortune 500, and so on.

An organized movement might have worked with the Lincoln Network in Silicon Valley to look for just the right plaintiff(s) and might well have debated whether to bring an initial test case against Google, instead of a less wealthy and powerful company with the same Orwellian attitudes.

That said, if Damore’s legal action survives to a discovery stage, the allegation that some Google managers maintain blacklists of fellow employees will probably be of interest.  And if Breitbart is to be believed (an open question), there are more conservatives at Google Damore could have claimed to represent, which would greatly strengthen his case.  Indeed, the Breitbart report also refers to a pending NLRB complaint alleging Google actively sought to silence employees who questioned the company’s diversity and social justice initiatives (which have been costly and mostly ineffective, btw).

If there was an organized civil rights movement, I wouldn’t have to be wondering whether I should trust Breitbart about these allegations.  Organizers — or the attorneys hired to pursue test cases – would have already given a heads-up and background material to more trusted media (esp. friendly media) to help drive the media narrative, or at least blunt the biased coverage one would otherwise expect.

And an organized movement would be thinking beyond litigation.  As Walter Olson noted on Twitter, hostile-environment law favors the claims of the Left.  It could be reformed in ways that distinguish between true harassment and the type of situation we have at Google.  And to mount my hobby-horse once more, a movement would think about the educational system that educates STEM students to behave like cultural commissars in the workplace.

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