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.

Texan99 said...

I don't think there's a legal obligation to tell the truth about why you fired someone as long as you don't slander him. So you can't claim he's a thief if he's not, but you can say you didn't like his tie, even if you really fired him because you hated his politics. (This is assuming he doesn't have a contract with strictly limited termination grounds. Even then, if you have a legal ground, you could fire him even though you and everybody else knows perfectly well you might have overlooked it if not for his politics, and he'd be hard-pressed to win a suit.)

Most companies try very hard to avoid saying a word about why they fired someone. Naturally everyone will jump to conclusions if the employee was high-profile and controversial, but HR tries to stick to something anodyne about finding the best fit, even if someone calls for references. The company might feel on a little more solid ground if it can point to a clear violation of company policy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Bruce, you reason much as I do. Actions may be legal, but still telling about the actor, and what might "really" be happening. We speculate, of course. But sometimes such speculations are accurate, or at least a first bit of evidence of a pattern that only gradually emerges with any confidence.

The cynical but often true suggestion is "Follow the money." I think in this case something related is happening: "Follow the power." It doesn't matter if Damore is right. What matters is that his opponents can do this, so they do it. Google has clearly signaled who they fear. As their jobs are really cool and well-paid, this incident will likely affect them only slightly. People do learn to live for a long time in bureaucracies pretending they believe the party line. If this keeps repeating, their attractiveness will erode, but any serious damage may be a long way off.

I don't fully understand why younger liberals don't see that they will eventually be defenesrated as well. They have seen these things unfold at their schools, and know the sort of people who are dangerous. Boomer liberals, especially those with no children, can move with more assurance. The SJW's aren't coming for them anytime soon, and they'll be dead. Though, these things sometimes happen quicker than expected. A few older males with long records of encouraging female colleagues and treating them entirely fairly...but wait, that's a new post! Thanks!

jaed said...

you can say you didn't like his tie, even if you really fired him because you hated his politics

Doesn't California have a law forbidding employment discrimination on grounds of employee's politics? In which case doing that wouldn't be legal; it would be trying to hide unlawful discrimination.

People do learn to live for a long time in bureaucracies pretending they believe the party line.

...but that does a lot more spiritual harm to people when they live in totalitarian societies, because in such a society, it's not just about what you do or say at work; it involves your out-of-work political activities, what you say in a bar when shooting the breeze, what you write... eventually even what you say in private to your family and closest friends. Taps and secret police and informers enforce conformity with the party line wherever you are. And not openly dissenting isn't enough; you must positively celebrate things you may disagree with.*

Now consider the utility of Facebook and the Internet, and the practice of doxxing, in that context. Particularly when the companies that run the virtual bar and your email server and the phone you use to talk to your family and friends are all-in on enforcing the party line. (And there is only one party line. If you work for a company with a bureaucratic line you disagree with, if you disagree strongly enough you can quit and find another job. You can't quit SJW-ism. Even if you find a company that doesn't enforce it, the rest of society will enforce it on the company. Step out of line and your company will be threatened if they don't fire you.)

People did manage to live all their lives in the Soviet Union without being shot or sent to the Gulag. But I still don't want to live in the Soviet Union.

As for the young progressives... they have right belief, carefully and continually self-monitored. So why should they fear? They're on top and they're the ones who determine the limits of acceptability, so they're in no danger.

(If they'd studied history—if they knew anything about, say, the French Revolution, not to mention the history of Communism generally—they'd realize that thinking that way is living in a fool's paradise, but they generally have not made any serious study of history. The shock troops of totalitarian movements generally haven't.)

I'd think the incidents where progressives in good standing have been cast out for e.g. having the wrong boyfriend would have begun to wake them up, but I don't see any public signs of this. People revile the cast-out on command, and seldom try to defend them except self-exculpatorily ("Gosh, she always seemed like such a good person. I had no idea she was secretly a bad person! [So please don't cast me out for having been friendly with her, because I didn't know her secret sin.]") Still, that doesn't mean there isn't enlightenment happening inside people's heads. It's the nature of a fear-based movement that even when people start to change their minds, they don't come out openly with it until there's a cascade and they feel a little safer.

*This is why I thought the "design cakes for same-sex weddings" thing was so very dangerous. It made use of anti-discrimination law—which used to mean "you can't discriminate against people"—to enforce non-discrimination against ideas. And not only that, but—since a cake designer is an artist—to require positive celebration, on pain of civil and criminal penalties.

Bad enough when a society starts enforcing ever-stricter ideological conformity using social sanctions, but when it starts veering into legal requirements, you're on a very bad slope.

Texan99 said...

Does California really have a law forbidding employment discrimination based on politics? If so, surely it doesn't protect conservatives.

jaed said...

"Political activities or affiliations", if I remember correctly. Not political views per se, but presumably an employer would generally only become aware of views via affiliation or activities.