Google has been on a very public mission to fix the reputation of its workplace, ever since engineer James Damore circulated a memo explaining why he believed women just weren’t as good as men at certain jobs. The company fired Damore and has been trying to limit the damage from the incident ever since, but an explosive sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by a seven-year veteran of the company isn’t going to help things.
Loretta Lee, a software engineer at Google who worked at the company for seven years before being fired in February 2016, is suing for sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination. Lee alleges that Google had a deeply ingrained “bro culture” that facilitated harassment for years, and Google did nothing to help.
“In a male-dominated workplace, Plaintiff was frequently subjected to sexual harassment as her male co-workers engaged in inappropriate behavior and made lewd remarks to her,” the lawsuit claims, saying that Google “failed to prevent this severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
The instances of “bro culture” named in the suit go from minor, like firing Nerf guns, to more serious issues like repeatedly having her drinks spiked with whiskey. In one particularly alarming incident, Lee came back to her desk to find a “relatively unknown” male coworker hiding underneath. He popped out and said “You’ll never know what I was doing!”.
“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.
Lee was pressured into filing a formal complaint with HR despite having concerns that her coworkers would retaliate against her, and despite video footage of the incident confirming her account, the suit says. After making the complaint, Lee claims that her coworkers stopped approving her code and stalled her projects.
“Not only did Google fail to prevent severe and pervasive sexual harassment in Plaintiff’s workplace, but the repeated and awkward meetings that Human Resources forced Plaintiff to attend led her group to retaliate against her in the very way she feared,” the lawsuit says. “Google’s failure to take appropriate remedial action is consistent with its pattern and practice of ignoring sexual harassment in the workplace, making no significant efforts to take corrective action, and punishing the victim.”
In a statement to Gizmodo, a Google spokesperson said that “we have strong policies against harassment in the workplace and review every complaint we receive. We take action when we find violations—including termination of employment.”