Tag Archives: Harassment
Google announced changes to how it will handle claims of sexual harassment among employees, including making arbitration optional for individual harassment and sexual assault claims. While additional transparency and protection for workers is a sign of progress, the change is incremental rather than transformative, because Google’s arbitration provision still prohibits collective action. Harassment claims will no longer be forced into private arbitration, but only individuals can now bring their claims before a jury.
It’s unclear whether Google, which has a history of confusing its employees around confidentiality, will make the process of opting out clear or easy. Google has become quicker and more responsive to employee concerns. Nonetheless, a publicized email from CEO Sundar Pichai and an accompanying interview in *The New York Times* still seem like the kind of gauzy public relations efforts that motivated 20,000 employees to join a protest last week to demand transparency and meaningful change. *The Times* reported last month that Google executives were allowed to leave with multimillion-dollar exit packages following credible claims of harassment against them.
Arbitration agreements can be used to obscure harassment allegations and protect serial abusers because employees are required to resolve disputes privately with an arbiter, who is typically paid by the company, rather than in open court. In Silicon Valley, forced arbitration agreements, nondisclosure agreements, and confidentiality clauses are routinely included in employment contracts, just as nondisparagement agreements are tied to severance packages and private settlements.
Organizers of last week’s walkout are disappointed with Google’s response, which they found defensive and dismissive toward their demands for equity. The changes signal the power of collective action, but organizers said they were not consulted ahead of the announcement. They said Google ignored concerns about discrimination and the rights of contract workers, indicating the company wants to continue operating as it has in the past, with transparency stressed in name rather than action. An internal Google website is tracking worker sentiment about whether demands—such as employee representation on the company’s board, which Pichai seemed to brush off—were met.
Google held a company-wide meeting for employees following the announcement. “Overall I felt the town hall was primarily the leadership team centering their own feelings as a performative show of appearing to listen, while substantively ignoring” concerns about gender and racial discrimination, and instead focusing only on harassment, says software engineer Irene Knapp, who participated in the walkout, and also introduced a shareholder proposal to tie executive pay to diversity goals at Google’s last shareholder meeting.
Knapp says it’s unclear whether Google can effectively fulfill the changes it promised. “The leadership team is congratulating itself already, before anything they’ve announced has even been launched—they wouldn’t let any of us get away with that.”
Last week’s walkout was unprecedented in terms of support from Google’s 94,000 employes. Although a wave of worker dissent has been rolling through Silicon Valley’s corporate campuses, it has been difficult to gauge what portion of the workforce shares those concerns.
Pichai’s announcement was delivered in a company-wide email. “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes,” he wrote alongside a rough outline of plans, such as providing a transparency report “around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes.”
In the same paragraph outlining the arbitration change, Pichai stressed existing worker protections. “Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g. personal privacy) but, we recognize that choice should be up to you,” he wrote.
But over the past couple of years, both employees and enforcement officials from the Department of Labor have questioned Google’s confidentiality policies, including a lawsuit that alleges the company’s internal process for investigating leaks is illegal. “This change looks like a step in the right direction,” says James Finberg, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon pressing a class-action lawsuit alleging gender bias in pay and promotion.
“Mandatory confidential arbitration can protect repeat sexual harassers, and result in more women becoming the victims of those harassers. Permitting women to file public lawsuits lets people in the company know about the bad behavior. Lawsuits, as opposed to individual arbitration proceedings, also permit women to band together, share resources, and bring about system change,” Finberg wrote in an email to WIRED.
He says the experience of one of the named plaintiffs in his suit, Kelly Ellis, is consistent with the report in The Times. “[Ellis] ended up changing departments, and eventually leaving Google, because a senior manager had been harassing her, and the company’s response was not to move him but to move her. Many women’s careers have been harmed by management not taking such complaints seriously and saying that it was their problem, not the problem of their accuser.”
The change to its arbitration policy brings Google in line with other influential tech companies like Uber and Microsoft, which have altered their binding arbitration policies in the past couple of years in response to disturbing revelations about sexual harassment from women and, in particular, women of color.
At Uber, too, changes came only as a result of internal protest from employees like former engineer Susan Fowler, attempts to sue the company, and public scrutiny over the abhorrent behavior of Uber executives.
More Great WIRED Stories
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Women at Microsoft Corp working in U.S.-based technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints about gender discrimination or sexual harassment between 2010 and 2016, according to court filings made public on Monday.
The figure was cited by plaintiffs suing Microsoft for systematically denying pay raises or promotions to women at the world’s largest software company. Microsoft denies it had any such policy.
The lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court in 2015, is attracting wider attention after a series of powerful men have left or been fired from their jobs in entertainment, the media and politics for sexual misconduct.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are pushing to proceed as a class action lawsuit, which could cover more than 8,000 women.
More details about Microsoft’s human resources practices were made public on Monday in legal filings submitted as part of that process.
The two sides are exchanging documents ahead of trial, which has not been scheduled.
Out of 118 gender discrimination complaints filed by women at Microsoft, only one was deemed“founded” by the company, according to the unsealed court filings.
Attorneys for the women described the number of complaints as“shocking” in the court filings, and said the response by Microsoft’s investigations team was“lackluster.”
Companies generally keep information about internal discrimination complaints private, making it unclear how the number of complaints at Microsoft compares to those at its competitors.
In a statement on Tuesday, Microsoft said it had a robust system to investigate concerns raised by its employees, and that it wanted them to speak up.
Microsoft budgets more than $ 55 million a year to promote diversity and inclusion, it said in court filings. The company had about 74,000 U.S. employees at the end of 2017.
Microsoft said the plaintiffs cannot cite one example of a pay or promotion problem in which Microsoft’s investigations team should have found a violation of company policy but did not.
U.S. District Judge James Robart has not yet ruled on the plaintiffs’ request for class action status.
A Reuters review of federal lawsuits filed between 2006 and 2016 revealed hundreds containing sexual harassment allegations where companies used common civil litigation tactics to keep potentially damning information under wraps.
Microsoft had argued that the number of womens’ human resources complaints should be secret because publicizing the outcomes could deter employees from reporting future abuses.
A court-appointed official found that scenario“far too remote a competitive or business harm” to justify keeping the information sealed.
Reporting by Dan Levine; Additional reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by Bill Rigby, Edwina Gibbs and Bernadette Baum
On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it will no longer require employees to resolve sexual-harassment claims through private arbitration, one of the first signs that the legal contracts long used to hide workplace misconduct may be starting to crumble under the pressure of the #MeToo movement.
Roughly 60 million Americans are subject to mandatory arbitration agreements, generally as part of employment contracts they signed when they were hired. The agreements compel employees to address claims through a private arbiter rather than in court, which can keep victims in the dark about prior harassment claims, shield serial abusers, and hide sexual harassment from public scrutiny.
Microsoft says it made the change as it prepared to throw its support behind a bill proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) that would make forced arbitration in harassment cases unenforceable under federal law. “After returning from Washington to Seattle, we also reflected on a second aspect of the issue. We asked ourselves about our own practices and whether we should change any of them,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer wrote on the company’s corporate blog.
Forced arbitration agreements are popular in Silicon Valley, where employers often impose strict confidentiality provisions that keep employment issues private. Now the question is whether other big players will follow Microsoft’s lead.
Amazon says it doesn’t ask employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. A Facebook spokesperson says the company is looking into the Graham-Gillibrand proposal and referred to the company’s harassment policy. Uber, Google, and Apple did not immediately respond to questions from WIRED about arbitration agreements for sexual harassment or their support for the new bill. Uber’s employment contracts include a binding arbitration clause, but the company now gives employees 30 days to opt-out of that clause, Uber told WIRED in June.
Confidentiality provisions, including nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) and non-disparagement clauses, came under fire after news reports revealed how these contracts were used to shield serial abusers like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes, by silencing victims.
Earlier this month, experts told WIRED that reforming these contracts would help pierce the secrecy around sexual harassment. Both former Uber engineer Susan Fowler and former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson have identified forced arbitration clauses as legal impediments for harassment victims. Fowler, whose harassment allegations led to the ouster of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in August in support of an ongoing Supreme Court case to determine whether forced arbitration violates federal law. Carlson, who sued Ailes for sexual harassment, joined Graham and Gillibrand at a press conference introducing their bill earlier this month.
Microsoft’s public stand against secrecy follows a Bloomberg story last week about a rape claim from a female Microsoft intern, which came to light as part of a two-year-old class-action lawsuit against Microsoft for gender discrimination.
The rape allegation from the Microsoft intern emerged in recently unsealed documents in the class action suit. According to Bloomberg, the intern was required to keep working alongside her alleged rapist while the company investigated her claim.
The policy change may be relatively simpler to implement at Microsoft, which typically does not include arbitration agreements in its employment contracts. In his blog post, Smith said a review found that only “a small segment” of its 125,000 employees “have contractual clauses requiring pre-dispute arbitration for harassment claims in employment agreements.” That covers a few hundred people. A Microsoft spokesperson says the company also will not compel arbitration related to gender discrimination, which is included in the proposed legislation.
Yesterday, another two public officials resigned due to sex scandals and their resignations seem a bit backward. The first, Al Franken (D-Minn) had photos of him inappropriately touching women. He, however, denied that he’d really done anything really wrong, saying,
“I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.”
The second, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) resigned after “discussing surrogacy” with some female staff members. While that doesn’t seem like actual sexual harassment or discrimination to me, he felt that in the current climate he needed to resign. And, of course, we do not know the whole story. We don’t know anyone’s whole story.
While you can’t shake a stick in Washington or Hollywood without hitting someone sleazy, sexual harassment isn’t limited to the rich and famous. And while some of the victims of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, and Louis C.K. were, themselves, pretty famous, most victims are normal humans. And normal humans have regular jobs. And normal humans with regular jobs may be feeling a bit more stressed with all this focus on sexual assault and harassment. Some may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
[R]ape and sexual assault might actually be the most common cause of PTSD. Data suggests that anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of sexual assault survivors develop PTSD. With so many women exposed to sexual assault, it becomes clear that the disparity between men and women in mental health issues might be closely related to the trauma many women face.
So, there may well be someone suffering from PTSD in your office who is feeling worse in today’s climate. What do you do?
You’re not your employees’ best friend, and you shouldn’t try to act like it. Don’t have big sharing sessions or talk about how some guy smiled at you on the bus and made you feel violated. It’s insensitive and dumb. #MeToo isn’t a competition.
Remind your whole staff about your EAP.
You should have an employee assistance program, and if you don’t consider implementing one today. They are inexpensive and can be life-saving for employees. EAPs are experienced in helping people find mental health support and depending on your plan, visits may be free or at a reduced cost, at least for an initial therapy session.
Make reasonable accommodations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act covers many cases of PTSD, which means that (as long as you have 15 or more employees), you are required to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee who qualifies. Encourage someone who brings up any stress from these recent events to see their physician and have the paperwork filled out.
Then, be willing to make accommodations for your employee. What is reasonable depends on the job and the company. Work with your employee to come to a solution. (This is called an interactive process and is required by law.) For instance, if you work in an office, it might be reasonable to move someone’s desk so that her back is against the wall, which means no one can sneak up on her. If the same employee is a cashier at the grocery store, it may not be reasonable to have her in a location where no one can come up behind her.
Never excuse bad behavior.
One thing we’ve found out during this time of sexual harassment revelations is that perpetrators need accomplices. The Harvey Weinsteins and Matt Lauers of the world wouldn’t have been successful in their longtime harassment had many people, men and women, not allowed it.
There is no employee so valuable that you should tolerate bad behavior. If you want your employees to feel safe at work, investigate every claim, and fire anyone who deserves to be fired. Period. Even if that person is your top salesperson. Shut that behavior down.
Chances are, you know someone who is dealing with raw feelings, so remember, above all, be kind.
More than a dozen women have stepped forward to accuse Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment in the days since a former host for the channel filed a related lawsuit against Ailes, according to New York magazine.
Gretchen Carlson, who hosted “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson” until last month, alleged that Ailes subjected her to “severe and persistent” sexual harassment. She also claims that Ailes fired her in June in a retaliatory move after she rejected his sexual advances. Ailes has called Carlson’s accusations “false.” Read more…