Legal Experts Assess Memo-Writing Google Engineer’s California Legal Options in the Wake of His Termination

Google logoThe Fair Employment and Housing Act offers considerable protections to a variety of groups of employees. Of course, employees cannot be subjected to discrimination based upon gender, race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. However, the law doesn’t stop there. It also protects employees from discrimination based upon political activity. That protection can potentially include a variety of types of activities and employees, including, as noted in a recent article on TheStreet.com, the now-famous former Google software engineer who was terminated after publishing a memo criticizing the corporation’s diversity policies.

James Damore had been a Google employee for 3 1/2 years when he wrote “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” The memo critiqued the way in which Google set out to achieve diversity, including criticism of the way in which those employment practices affected the genders. After the engineer published the memo, the employer terminated him, allegedly for violating Google’s employee “code of conduct.”

Some observers have theorized that Google’s abrupt and immediate termination of the engineer’s employment may provide the engineer with a cause of action under the FEHA. Section 1102 of the code bars employers from coercing or influencing employees “to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.” This includes coercion or influence in the forms of loss of employment or threat of loss of employment.

This section of the code exists to prevent private employers from intimidating employees into taking a political stand or refraining from taking a political stand. Arguably, the engineer could advance a wrongful termination case that contends that Google did exactly that when it fired him for engaging in public discourse regarding the company’s hiring and promotion practices. As of the date of the TheStreet.com article, the engineer had not lodged a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, but he had filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

The engineer, if he chose to pursue a case under Section 1102, would not be the only one to advance this type of action recently. In August 2011, a supermarket chain employee who worked at the company’s distribution center in Merced filed suit for wrongful termination under Section 1102. The employee had taken down a “Gay/Lesbian Pride Month” poster that the employer had posted in the employees’ break room. The employee, who was an opponent of legal same-sex marriage (and a proponent of California’s Proposition 8), saw the poster as an attempt to influence the then-ongoing debate regarding same-sex marriage in favor of the side of legal same-sex marriage. In that case, the Court of Appeal issued an opinion in 2013 making it clear that, if the employee could prove that the employer terminated him for his disapproval of same-sex marriage, his support of Proposition 8, or his stated opposition to the purported “gay/lesbian political agenda,” he had a valid claim for discrimination in violation of the FEHA. If, on the other hand, the employer could prove that it actually fired him over his removing and destroying the poster, the termination would not be illegal, and the employee would have no case.

If you think that your employer has terminated you wrongfully for your political activity (or your refusal to engage in political activity), you may have a case against that employer. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch are here to help. Our team is dedicated to helping workers who’ve been wrongfully terminated or harmed by other discrimination in the workplace. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

How Your Employer’s Actions May Create an Implied Contract and Help Your California Wrongful Termination Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, July 28, 2017

California Pharmacy Tech Gets New Opportunity to Pursue Emotional Distress Damages in Wrongful Termination Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, May 12, 2017