An ex-Google exec says he witnessed a bullying culture where bosses screamed at employees, people were referred to as their race and their ‘Don’t Be Evil’ mantra became a joke as the company pushed to work with China.
Ross LaJeunesse, who worked at Google for a decade and was their head of international relations when he left in May 2019, claims he was sidelined by the company for championing diversity and human rights.
The 50-year-old – now a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Maine – detailed his grievances with Google in an online essay published on Thursday.
‘The company’s motto used to be ‘don’t be evil’,’ LaJeunesse said. ‘Things have changed.’
Ross LaJeunesse, who worked at Google for a decade and was their head of international relations when he left in May 2019, claims he was sidelined by the company for championing diversity and human rights
Google rebuffed the criticism, noting that LaJeunesse’s remarks come in the context of an election campaign.
‘We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organizations and efforts,’ Google said in a statement.
‘We wish Ross all the best with his political ambitions.’
Detailing Google’s workplace culture, LaJeunesse claimed senior staffers would bully and scream at young female employees, causing them to cry at their desks.
He also claimed that a meeting, his boss said: ‘Now you Asians come to the microphone too. I know you don’t like to ask questions.’
‘At a different all-hands meeting, the entire policy team was separated into various rooms and told to participate in a ‘diversity exercise’ that placed me in a group labeled ‘homos’ while participants shouted out stereotypes such as ‘effeminate’ and ‘promiscuous,’ he said.
‘Colleagues of color were forced to join groups called ‘Asians’ and ‘Brown people’ in other rooms nearby.’
He claims he routinely raised these instances with HR and other senior execs and was assured they would be dealt with.
LaJeunesse claims that eventually he was accidentally cc’d on an email from a senior HR director.
‘In the email, the HR director told a colleague that I seemed to raise concerns like these a lot, and instructed her to ‘do some digging’ on me instead,’ he said.
LaJeunesse joined Google in 2008 and was head of the company’s head of public policy for Asia Pacific before taking the international relations position.
He said he was behind Google’s landmark policy push to stop censoring search results in China back in 2010, which greatly angered the China government.
‘The decision infuriated not only the Chinese government, but also frustrated some Google product executives eyeing the huge market and its accompanying profits,’ LaJeunesse said.
He claims executives for the Maps and Androids product started pushing to launch their products in China, which he pushed back against.
LaJeunesse said he was ‘alarmed’ to learn in 2017 that Google had started the development of a new censored search product for China called ‘Dragonfly’.
‘Dragonfly was only one of several developments that concerned those of us who still believed in the mantra of ‘Don’t Be Evil’,’ he said.
‘I was also concerned that Cloud executives were actively pursuing deals with the Saudi government, given its horrible record of human rights abuses.’
In response to LaJeunesse’s claims, Google said in a statement: ‘We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organizations and efforts’
He said it eventually became clear to him that he was losing the ability to influence product development and deals being pursued by Google.
LaJeunesse said it was at this point that he started advocating heavily for a formal Human Rights program at Google.
He claims he was repeatedly blocked or turned down by senior executives.
‘At this point, a colleague was suddenly re-assigned to lead the policy team discussions for Dragonfly. As someone who had consistently advocated for a human rights-based approach, I was being sidelined from the on-going conversations on whether to launch Dragonfly.
‘I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions. Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price.’
LaJeunesse said that he was told last year they were reorganizing and that there was no longer a position for him.
He claims Google said, only after he hired legal counsel, that there had been a misunderstanding and he was offered a small role.
LaJeunesse said he chose to leave and claims standing up for the ‘LGBTQ community, for colleagues of color, and for human rights’ cost him his job.
He contended that as Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin left operation of the company to hired executives, the spirit of doing the right thing gave way to profit over principles.
‘No longer can massive tech companies like Google be permitted to operate relatively free from government oversight,’ LaJeunesse said.