A Google employee in a court fight with the search company is trying to block a US$310 million settlement to resolve separate litigation over sexual harassment and executive misconduct.
The employee, who’s identified in court papers by the pseudonym John Doe, has been sparring with the internet giant for four years over internal policies that he says muzzle staffers who want to speak out about workplace issues.
Doe claims the accord that Alphabet Inc.’s board reached with investors in September over an alleged pattern of covering up misconduct by top executives by paying them generously to leave is a “whitewash” that won’t reform the company. A lawyer for the shareholders hailed the proposed settlement as a “landmark,” calling the company’s payout among the largest of its kind.
Doe says that in light of the almost US$1.5 billion the company spent on diversity initiatives from 2014 to 2018, its pledge to add another US$310 million over 10 years -- which his lawyer Chris Baker calculates as about US$243 per employee per year -- amounts to a decrease rather than an increase.
Google defended the settlement as comprehensive in a statement Tuesday.
“We have committed to making more than 50 improvements to Alphabet’s workplace -- changes which were developed and refined in cooperation with and extensively vetted by representatives of our shareholders,” a Google spokesperson said.
Louise Renne, a lawyer for shareholders who negotiated the settlement, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The filing by Doe late Monday marks the first objection to the settlement, which is scheduled for a final approval hearing on Nov. 30 in California state court in San Jose.
Doe also objects to the settlement allowing the executives who left the company while facing allegations of misconduct to not bear any of the financial costs. “The wrongdoers were paid from company funds after being accused of harassment and asked to resign,” Doe said in the filing. Alphabet shouldn’t pay “for agreements that were either hush money or rewards to sexual harassers” and should try to recover funds paid out.
Doe sued Google in 2016 under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, a law that allows workers to file complaints against employers on behalf of the state, and win civil penalties, for labor-code violations. He alleges that Google’s non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements violate state laws.