The waves of protests and walkouts that swept Google last year had many grievances and concerns, from the company's Pentagon contract to supply AI for drones to the secret creation of a censored search tool for the Chinese market, but one central flashpoint was the revelation that the company had paid Android exec $90 million to quietly leave the company after a string of disturbing sexual harassment and abuse incidents came to light.
The Rubin incident was compounded by the company's practice of forcing its employees to accept binding arbitration contracts as a condition of employment (binding arbitration clauses mean that you surrender your right to seek justice in court, including as part of a class-action suit, and instead agree to have your disagreements heard by a corporate "aribitrator" paid for by the company you're upset with, who generally — unsurprisingly — sides with that company).
The binding arbitration contracts meant that women who had suffered systematic discrimination and abuse at Google could not sue the company, especially not collectively through class action suits, which are often the only economically feasible way for groups of people to get redress from giant, powerful corporations — under binding arbitration, women who'd been abused at Google couldn't even sue to be released from their confidentiality clauses so that they could publicly discuss their experiences.
Last month, a group of activist googlers launched the #endforcedarbitration campaign, which actively made the connection between #metoo and forced arbitration. Though the activists' long-term goal was the elimination of forced arbitration clauses in all employment contracts, their first target was Google's employment contracts, and they scored a hit on that first attempt: Google has retroactively waived all existing binding arbitration clauses in employee contracts, expanding on the company's November 2018 decision to remove arbitration from new hires' contracts. This means that googlers who experienced discrimination, harassment, abuse and other wrongdoing before November will be able to go to court, too.
Google, like all tech companies, has access to almost limitless capital and has been able to evade most regulation and taxation, but all the money and regulation in the world can't solve its biggest bottleneck: the massive shortage of tech workers, which gives Google's workforce enormous political power (this is why Google secretly lobbied the Trump administration to make it illegal for Googlers to organize themselves over email).
Google said Thursday that it will no longer bar employees from suing the company over discrimination or wrongful termination, or from joining together in class-action suits.
The change will end Google's policy of forcing employees to litigate such disputes in arbitration, where hearings are typically closed and the arbitrators are paid for by the company. Critics say arbitration allows sexual harassers to prey on multiple victims because of the secrecy.
In November, Google waived mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment and assault claims. Thursday's move is a significant expansion of that policy. Among other things, it will allow current Google employees to move past claims from arbitration to court. Still, recent policy improvements at Google and other tech companies arrived too late for some female employees.
Google Ends Forced Arbitration After Employee Protest [Nitasha Tiku/Wired]