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‘Gaslighting’ at Google: Ex-Googler speaks out on discrimination investigation

In an interview, a former Google employee speaks out about allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimation at the company.

‘Gaslighting’ at Google: Ex-Googler speaks out on discrimination investigation

Chelsey Glasson, pictured with Washington Sen. Karen Keiser, has worked with lawmakers on a bill to protect employees facing pregnancy discrimination.

Photo: Courtesy of Chelsey Glasson

Chelsey Glasson, the former Google employee whose pregnancy discrimination claims are now the subject of an EEOC probe, said Wednesday that her interactions with Google HR have "always been, across all of my instances, gaslighting."

In an interview with Protocol, she talked about all those instances, from pregnancy discrimination to allegations of sexual misconduct from senior male Googlers. Glasson also says she intends to serve Google with a demand letter next week, seeking changes in how Google treats new parents it employs.

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Glasson's allegations first came to light in an internal memo she wrote last year titled "I'm Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why," which went viral internally and then on the larger web after Vice reported on it. In it, Glasson claimed her supervisor retaliated against her and her team in 2018 and 2019 after Glasson reported them for making discriminatory remarks about pregnancy and new parents. She also claimed that Google unfairly denied her a management position when she switched teams because she would soon be going on maternity leave.

Glasson first filed with the EEOC in September 2019, a month after her leaked memo went viral. She later went public with her identity as the memo's author in a Fast Company article. According to documents reviewed by Protocol, that EEOC claim is now under investigation.

Now, her child is nearly a year old and Glasson has moved to a job at Facebook, but she says she is still hoping to inspire change at Google.

"The demand that my attorney is serving Google next week includes the ask that, coming out of my experience, Google does the right thing and works with the Center for Parental Leave Leadership on programs such as training for managers at the company, how to elevate and support expecting new parents, with the goal of preventing pregnancy discrimination from happening at the company," she said.

Google has been completely silent in response to the pregnancy discrimination and retaliation, and in response to the Medium article, Glasson said.

The alleged pregnancy discrimination wasn't the only challenge Glasson says she faced during her five years at Google. In a Medium post on Sunday, Glasson made a new allegation, this time of sexual harassment during a team offsite in 2014. Glasson detailed a company trip to Cabo where a senior engineering director allegedly acted inappropriately, leading another colleague to intervene on Glasson's behalf. A year after that offsite, in 2015, another Googler, Kelly Ellis, came forward to accuse the same leader who had allegedly hit on Glasson of sexual harassment at the company. After seeing Ellis' post, the co-worker who had intervened between Glasson and the engineering leader in Cabo in 2014 reported the Cabo incident to HR.

Google's HR department investigated and interviewed Glasson, but to her knowledge, no action was taken.

"I remember going into that meeting and expecting HR to be concerned, and immediately it turned into an interrogation. I was immediately asked, 'How much did you have to drink that night?'" Glasson said.

Since her latest allegations went up on Medium, and the pregnancy discrimination claim has gone under investigation with the EEOC, Glasson says she has not heard from Google. "Google has been completely silent in response to the pregnancy discrimination and retaliation, and in response to the Medium article," she said.

Google did not respond to specific questions about Glasson's pregnancy discrimination claims or her newly public sexual harassment claim. Instead, a Google spokesperson said in a statement that the company is working to be "extremely transparent about how we handle complaints and the action we take."

"Reporting misconduct takes courage, and we want to provide care and support to people who raise concerns," the Google spokesperson said in an email. "All instances of inappropriate conduct reported to us are investigated rigorously, and over the past year we have simplified how employees can raise concerns and provided more transparency into the investigations process at Google."

A spokesperson from the EEOC said that complaints are "strictly confidential, and we are prohibited from commenting on them, furnishing any information on them, or even confirming or denying the existence of such a charge."

At Google what's unique is that sexual misconduct was happening among the most senior male Googlers, Glasson said.

The pregnancy discrimination inquiry is just the latest in a growing list of investigations into Google's work culture. The company is also reportedly facing an inquiry from the National Labor Relations Board over the firing of four employees, who were known internal organizers, according to CNBC. Many employees have also been pushing back against Google's culture and some of its business decisions, like contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The company is also facing a shareholder lawsuit over the board allowing generous exit packages for senior executives who faced sexual harassment allegations.

Glasson said "there was no chatter at the time" that she joined the company in 2014 about any culture of sexual harassment or cover-up by senior executives. While heavy drinking at offsites and sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in tech, Glasson said Google's culture and its penchant for lavish off-site retreats, which was more extreme than at other places she had worked like Salesforce, only exacerbated the problem.

"This stuff happens, but at Google what's unique is that sexual misconduct was happening among the most senior male Googlers, and they were supported and elevated by their teams, and then, of course, that trickles down across the company," she said. "And then when people do try to speak up or say this is not OK, there isn't a process in place to appropriately handle it."

But #MeToo and a 2018 story from The New York Times on Google's pattern of paying accused sexual harassment allegations changed a lot for Google employees internally, and women like Glasson have been coming forward with their stories.

Since Glasson first went public with her allegations, she's worked with state legislators in Washington on a bill to expand the window from six months to one year for women who feel they've experienced pregnancy discrimination to file complaints.

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