Labor board rules ex-Google employee’s firing over ‘gender stereotypes’ was legal

A federal government agency has concluded that Google did not break labor laws for firing James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote a controversial memo about his company’s diversity initiatives, according to a National Labor Relations Board memo written in January that was made public on Friday.

Damore, a Google senior software engineer, was fired from Google in August after circulating an internal memo that questioned women’s biological suitability for technology jobs. Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” the 10-page manifesto alleged that women are underrepresented in technology because women are more anxious and have lower stress tolerances than men.

NLRB: Statements about women’s biological capabilities are not protected speech

Before he was fired, Damore filed a complaint with NLRB, arguing that Google was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” The National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right “to engage in … concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” including charged political speech.

In an agency memo, Jayme Sophir, an attorney with NLRB, was not convinced by Damore’s argument and recommended dismissing his complaint, agreeing that Google was within its rights to fire him. Sophir’s memo outlined that while Damore’s criticism of Google was protected speech, Damore had also made “unprotected discriminatory statements” regarding “women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution.”

“Employers have a strong interest in promoting diversity and encouraging employees across diverse demographic groups to thrive in their workplaces,” Sophir wrote. “Employers must be permitted to ‘nip in the bud’ the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a ‘hostile workplace.’ ”

Damore’s words caused negative, disruptive consequences to Google’s workplace. The NLRB memo said that at least two female engineering candidates for employment at Google said they were withdrawing from consideration explicitly because of Damore’s memo.

The memo also gives us insight into what exactly Damore was told during his firing. Google has chosen not to comment specifically on Damore’s case, but in the NLRB memo, Sophir noted that Google emphasized Damore was being fired for what he said about women, not what believed about Google’s hiring practices.

“I also want to be clear that this is not about you expressing yourself on political issues or having political views that are different than others at the company,” Google’s human resources department told Damore over the phone when he was fired, according to the NLRB. “Having a different political view is absolutely fine. Advancing gender stereotypes is not.”

Although the memo’s words are not legally binding since Damore dropped his NLRB complaint before it could potentially get dismissed, it shows how a court could rule if Damore continues to pursue legal action. And Damore is not letting his grievance go. In January, Damore announced that he was filing a class-action suit against Google on behalf of discriminated male, politically conservative employees at the tech giant.