‘Bro Culture’ Led to Repeated Sexual Harassment, Former Google Engineer’s Lawsuit Says


February 28, 2018

By Kate Conger

Loretta Lee, a software engineer who worked at Google for seven years before being fired in February 2016, is suing Google for sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination she says she experienced at the company. Lee says in her lawsuit that the company’s “bro-culture” led to continuous harassment and that Google did nothing to intervene.

Lee’s lawsuit follows more than six months of Google grappling with the fallout from a memo written by a former employee, James Damore, in which he argued that women were biologically less fit for careers in tech than men. Damore’s memo, which was published by Gizmodo in August, received both support and condemnation from other Google employees and spurred internal debate about sexism, racism, and diversity within the company.

Throughout her time at Google, Lee was routinely sexually harassed, according to her lawsuit. She says her male coworkers spiked her drinks with alcohol and shot nerf guns at her regularly, and she says one male coworker messaged her to ask for a “horizontal hug.” At a holiday party, Lee’s lawsuit says, a male coworker slapped her across the face while he was intoxicated.

In one particularly alarming incident detailed in Lee’s lawsuit, she says she found a male coworker hiding under her desk when she returned after a short break. He refused to say what he was doing, the lawsuit says. “The incident with the co-worker under her desk unnerved her. Plaintiff [Lee] had never spoken to that co-worker before. She was frightened by his comment and believed he may have installed some type of camera or similar device under her desk,” the lawsuit says.

Google’s human resources department pressured Lee during a series of meetings to make a formal complaint about the incident, she says. But she was frightened that a complaint would only generate retaliation from her coworkers, she says—and video had emerged of the incident, her lawsuit states, so she didn’t think that she should be required to make a complaint. When she refused, HR cited her for “failing to cooperate,” her lawsuit states. Lee says she finally relented and made a complaint, which Google then failed to investigate, the lawsuit states.

Lee’s male coworkers retaliated against her after the complaint, her lawsuit says. They refused to approve her code and stalled her projects, she says, making it more difficult for her to succeed at work.

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