Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Google Fires Kaepernick

Google and the NFL are both big private companies that are trying to establish a brand and make a buck.  They are not federal agencies or public utilities, though we treat them as some sort of common property. They fire people who are bad for business, even if they're right. They can do that. There are limitations on why they can fire people, but "doing distracting stuff that makes us look bad" is actually a fairly well-established reason, so long as you can show it's not just an excuse.

There are differences.  Kaepernick repeated his action even when told it was bad for business; the politics are reversed; Kaepernick had a contract, which means both sides had given up some freedom to operate in exchange for some guarantees; the Google memo is not a whistle-blower case, but it has some elements of that, and some lawyer may try to pry that open; Kaepernick was complaining about something outside his industry.

Yet there is a core similarity.  Don't be bad for business, or you will be on the defensive.


Laura said...

It is VERY well established that employers can fire someone who opposes a major business initiative of theirs-- even if that opposition is impeccably polite and even based on Science (TM). Even so... I do wonder about the provenance of this memo-- whether he got any assurances of anonymity or privacy when he first submitted it, who spread it wider, who spread it outside of the company (presumably that broke Google's famously stiff NDA), etc.

CA does have some officially-strict rules on employers who target employees agitating for better working conditions, and also privacy/anti-stalking/anti-abuse laws. (Some of the stuff in the wider media has been quite insulting and even obscene and violent; allowing such abuse to be spread around the company would be officially illegal.) I say "officially", because this is dependent of CA prosecutors doing something about it, and Google is possibly the #1 taxpayer in the state and has many connections with the Democratic leadership in the state. So, good luck with that, Google-guy.

I expect he's completely shocked at what happened. He's always been a top 1% student, always been rewarded for making carefully-reasoned logical presentations to authority figures, always had the rule set applied in his favor as if it were a geometric theorem. And now he's in the Real World (TM), and none of that is true anymore. And even worse, he's now going to be used solely as a tool to hit back at somebody else's enemies. (Of which, Google has many: get some popcorn, the show will be starting soon.)

(Whereas: Kaepernick has always been a 1% athlete, always told he's got Hall of Fame level talent, always told he needs to be himself and be a leader on the field because he's so unique, always had the consequences suspended because the team needed his skill so much... And now he's not on the team, and Sportsmanship (TM) has a very different definition now.)

I feel bad for them, as human beings, though. They're going to be the Monica Lewinski's of 2017, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Sam L. said...

Google has erased the "Don't" from their motto.

Texan99 said...

I firmly believe Google can fire the guy for practically any reason; I believe in employment at will for both the employer and the employee. I still reserve the right to conclude that Google's management has made itself look like asses, and that if they get a lot of blowback from employees who sympathized with this guy, they richly deserve it. As for the fellow himself, if he's right about what's good for business, he should go find (or establish) one that agrees with him and prove it. Then he should be grateful he no longer has to take money for working in a place that requires him to pretend to be stupid.

jaed said...

Kaepernick tarred the product with his behavior; that is, his refusal to stand for the anthem occurred during the performance.

Damore, on the other hand, distributed his memo internally. He didn't (for example) put "Fewer women than men are interested in programming" on Google's home page. Arguably, the person or persons within Google who sent this internal memo to the press made the business "look bad", but I don't see how Damore did.

The situations do not seem to me to be analogous enough to draw any lessons from, other than "Employers have a right to fire employees for any reason that's allowed by their employment contract."

if they get a lot of blowback from employees who sympathized with this guy

They won't. Any employees who "sympathized with this guy", by which I suppose you mean "agreed in part or in whole with the case he made", are busy burying any indication that they might have views even slightly in line with his, and prophylactically doing a lot of visible cheering "For Diversity!", while updating their resumes.

BruceZeuli said...

As other have said Google can fire anybody for any reason. But I believe that if you provide a reason for that firing, then it has to be supported by facts. So while you can fire Bob because you don't like his hair cut, you can't then publicly state that you fired Bob for stealing other employee's lunch.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a note to employees that said portions of the memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

How would that statement be supported? What parts of the memo were harmful? Certainly the tone of the memo was helpful. It offered ideas as to how Google might increase the recruitment and hiring of women, goal the company promotes. The memo then supported these idea with links to credible sources and then provided a summary of those findings. Sundar Pichai can't know if these ideas would be helpful or harmful without implementing them. But in stating that they are harmful, he makes the claim that Damore caused harm to Google or to his fellow workers, and that is what I object to. He may have been fired for a bad haircut, but he did not steal others lunches.

To summarize, I would be OK with the firing had Sundar Pichai remained silent or said something that could be supported by the facts. How about "While we at Google support diversity in gender, race, religion and ethnicity we do not tolerate diversity of thought. James Damore ideas are too far removed from the cultural mainstream here at Google and so his employment was terminated.' This at least does not label Damore as having harmed his fellow workers.

The fact that the CEO made a statement is to me very telling. Why not let HR fire him and stay silent. How many hundreds or thousands of employees have been terminated in the past years with nary a peep? I have to believe that the internal backlash from the CEO remaining silence on this matter must be a greater threat than going public. And that is the most troubling thought of all.