- Google is under fire for supposedly being an inhospitable place for conservatives and was sued this week by James Damore for allegedly discriminating against whites, males, and conservatives.
- But a former engineer, in a newly released memo, said the company is equally unwelcoming to employees who publicly support diversity efforts and out colleagues who make racist or sexist comments.
- According to the engineer, Urs Hölzle, a top Google executive, personally admonished him for calling out bigots and supporting diversity, accusing him of stirring up trouble.
- “If the majority of your coworkers are Nazis, it is better if you don’t know about it,” Hölzle allegedly said.
To hear James Damore and other conservatives tell it, Google is a hostile place for those who question the value of diversity.
But according to one ex-engineer, the search company is an equally unwelcoming to those who call out bigoted employees and want to encourage it to hire more women and underrepresented minorities.
After trying to address head-on racist sentiments posted in an internal company discussion forum and posting articles there about the lack of diversity in tech in September 2015, the former engineer – whom Gizmodo identified as Cory Altheide – said a senior executive at the company accused him of stirring up trouble and suggested it wasn’t a good idea to put the spotlight on employees in the company that are “Nazis.”
“If the majority of your coworkers are Nazis, it is better if you don’t know about it,” Urs Hölzle, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure said, according to a memo Altheide released Thursday.
Altheide decided to leave Google the same day he had the conversation with Hölzle. He had expected the conversation to be with an HR representative and his manager, and was put on the line with Hölzle unwittingly, he said.
“I’m leaving because I don’t trust Urs. I’m afraid of Urs,” Altheide wrote in his memo. “He inserted himself into what should have been a conversation with my direct manager, and ‘requested’ I stop … talking about things he doesn’t want me to talk about,” wrote Altheide (emphasis his).
He added: “I’ve been bullied by an SVP with ten thousand [full-time employees] who roll up to him, arguably the most powerful SVP in the company, who is also *my* SVP, and the SVP I’ll have in any position I’m qualified for at Google. I’ve left before, when it made sense to do so, and I came back – when it made sense to do so. I don’t think it will ever make sense to do so again.
“I don’t want to work with jerks.”
Altheide did not immediately return a request for comment. Google also did not immediately return a request for comment.
The release of Altheide’s memo comes as Google has faced mounting pressure from right-wing groups who accuse it of fostering an environment that’s inimical to conservatives and throttling them from airing their views. Earlier this week, former employees James Damore and David Gudeman sued Google for allegedly discriminating against whites, males, and conservatives.
Altheide worked as a security engineer at Google from 2010 through January 2016, according to Gizmodo. He originally addressed his memo – which he titled “What happened to Cory?” – to coworkers to explain his departure from the company.
The incidents leading up to his departure started in the summer of 2015, Altheide said. That July, employees began discussing on the internal company forum the so-called pipeline problem in tech, the idea that women and minority workers are underrepresented in the industry because not enough of them are qualified. After that thread, turned “sadly contentious,” Hölzle tried to quiet things down before another Google executive effectively shut down the discussion in the forum.
But in early September Altheide said he became aware that parts of the internal discussion about the pipeline problem had been leaked by a “racist/sexist ‘neoreactionary'” employee. In response, Altheide started another discussion in the internal forum to address bigoted comments allegedly posted by fellow employees. Google HR contacted him soon after and questions his intentions for publishing the post. Altheide defended himself, saying what he was posting was relevant to the industry.
Despite the scrutiny from HR, Altheide kept posting news articles relating to matters of diversity in tech to the internal forum. Eventually, he got another email from HR, asking to discuss his postings in a video call. But when he took the call, it wasn’t an HR representative or his manager, but Hölzle on the other end.
Hölzle’s comment about not exposing Nazis in the company came in the context of him urging Altheide to avoid discussing diversity issue for the sake of just getting along. He remembered Hölzle’s Nazi line verbatim, because it stuck out to him as “a savagely tactless analogy for a Swiss man to be making,” he said in the memo.
After that meeting, Altheide received an email from Hölzle, with his direct manager copied. To Altheide’s knowledge, this was the first time his manager was informed of Hölzle’s involvement. The email formally asked Altheide not to post about “controversial topics,” and warned him that openly discussing his conversation with Hölzle could constitute “retaliation” on Altheide’s part, which would violate the company’s code of conduct.
Hölzle obviously had no idea what “retaliation” meant, Altheide wrote in his memo. And that email from the man who’s best known as Google’s eighth employee convinced Altheide he needed to leave.