Google fired James Damore for a controversial gender memo—now he’s suing

James Damore was fired over a memo questioning women’s aptitude for programming.

On Monday, Damore filed a lawsuit accusing the Mountain View search giant of systematic, illegal discrimination against conservatives and white men. He was joined in the lawsuit by David Gudeman, another Googler fired under similar circumstances.

“Damore, Gudeman, and other class members were ostracized, belittled, and punished for their heterodox political views, and for the added sin of their birth circumstances of being Caucasians and/or males,” their lawsuit charges. Damore and Gudeman are seeking to represent all conservatives and white men who have allegedly faced discrimination at Google in a class-action lawsuit.

There doesn’t seem to be much dispute about the facts in the case. Where Damore and Gudeman disagree with Google management, of course, is in how to interpret the events described in their lawsuit. Damore and Gudeman view themselves as bravely standing up to a left-wing political culture that systematically discriminates against conservatives and white men.

Their critics—including Google’s management and many Google employees—viewed them as right-wing trolls who were systematically undermining Google’s benign efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

“We look forward to defending against Mr. Damore’s lawsuit in court,” a Google spokesman told Ars.

The challenge for Google is that while Damore and Gudeman’s viewpoint is marginal inside Google, it’s not entirely marginal in the broader world. Many conservatives—including the president of the United States—share the duo’s view that “political correctness” has gone too far in corporate America. The lawsuit offers plenty of ammunition for people who hold this view—even as many other people will look at the same set of facts and conclude that Google justifiably fired a couple of recalcitrant troublemakers.

One thing that’s clear from the lawsuit is that James Damore wasn’t shy about advocating the views laid out in his memo. Over the course of two months, he promoted them to everyone who would listen.

“In June 2017, Damore attended a ‘Diversity and Inclusion Summit,'” the lawsuit reports. “Damore felt pressured to attend the event because Google proclaims ‘commitment to diversity and inclusion’ to be an important factor in deciding promotion to leadership positions.”

At the summit, Damore told a Google HR representative that “he believed some of the positions taken by Google were divisive and misguided.” At the end of the program, the lawsuit says, participants were asked to provide written feedback, so Damore wrote the first draft of his memo and sent it to Google’s HR department as part of his feedback to the event.

Damore didn’t stop there. In early July, Damore posted a copy of the memo to an internal Google forum used to discuss diversity issues.

He also “emailed individuals responsible for Google’s diversity programs, the Women at Google Program, the Code of Conduct team, and Google HR.” He pointed out that some of Google’s training and recruitment programs were specifically reserved for women and minorities and asked whether it was legal to exclude white men from these programs. He told the Google Code of Conduct team that he believed “some of Google’s policies were not being applied equally.”

Unfortunately, the lawsuit says, “Damore’s complaint about Google’s illegal hiring and employment practices were never investigated or pursued by Google HR, other than by firing him.”

Damore wasn’t done. He went to another diversity event later in July, where he again raised concerns about viewpoint discrimination at Google. When Damore objected to the premise of one session focused on the concept of white male privilege, the lawsuit says, other Googlers “laughed at him derisively.”

At the end of this event, Damore submitted yet another copy of his memo—updated with some changes suggested by some other Googlers who saw the first draft.

Damore still wasn’t done. On August 2, he submitted the memo to an internal mailing list. Finally, the memo began to circulate more widely within Google, and it began to elicit the broader debate he had been craving. It also leaked to the technology press, causing a public furor.

The result was an intense backlash. “You’re a misogynist and a terrible person,” one Googler reportedly wrote to Damore in an email. “I will keep hounding you until one of us is fired. Fuck you.”

“If Google management cares enough about diversity and inclusion, they should, and I urge them to, send a clear message by not only terminating Mr. Damore, but also severely disciplining or terminating those who have expressed support” for his memo, another Googler wrote in an internal discussion forum.

Damore’s critic got his wish—he got fired on August 7.

The story of Damore’s fellow plaintiff David Gudeman was broadly similar. In 2015, Gudeman received a memo written by another Googler warning against “derailment.” It was a plea for white men to be more deferential to women and minorities during discussions of social justice issues.

Gudeman wasn’t convinced—and he chose a particularly inflammatory analogy to illustrate why. According to the lawsuit, “Gudeman compared this document to that which ‘slave owners would have written for their slaves to help them understand how to interact with their masters.'”

That got Gudeman reported to the HR department, who (as the lawsuit puts it) “chastised him for attempting to stand up for Caucasian males and his conservative views.” Gudeman got a verbal warning.

Gudeman became a supporter of Donald Trump, and after Trump won the 2016 election he pushed back against the widespread anti-Trump sentiment inside Google. Another Googler wrote that “as someone already targeted by the FBI (including at work) for being a Muslim, I’m worried for my personal safety and liberty.”

Gudeman “responded skeptically” to his coworker’s claim, arguing that if he had really been targeted based solely on his religion, he should have filed a civil rights lawsuit over it. Other Googlers didn’t take kindly to Gudeman questioning a coworker’s story, and he was once again reported to HR.

“Google HR stated that Gudeman had accused [the Muslim employee] of terrorism based on [his] religion, and this was unacceptable.” Gudeman was fired over the incident, according to the lawsuit.

After describing Damore’s and Gudeman’s experiences, the lawsuit tells the stories of other, mostly unnamed Googlers who observed behavior that seemed to be biased against conservatives and/or white men.

For example, in one case a Google employee wrote in an internal company message board that “if I had a child, I would teach him/her traditional gender roles and patriarchy from a very young age. Our degenerate society constantly pushes the wrong message.”

The lawsuit says Google HR responded by writing to the employee that “your choice of words could suggest that you were advocating for a system in which men work outside of the home and women do not, or that you were advocating for rigid adherence to gender identity at birth. We trust that neither is what you intended to say.”

In the wake of the Damore controversy, a Google manager wrote, “you know, there are certain ‘alternative views, including different political views’ which I do not want people to feel safe to share here. You can believe that women or minorities are unqualified all you like—I can’t stop you—but if you say it out loud, you deserve what’s coming to you.”

In another post, a Googler wrote about a promotion committee she served on. “2/4 committee members were women. Yay!” she wrote. “4/4 committee members were white. Boo! 12/15 candidates were white men. Boo!”

Many of these anecdotes will look different to people with different politics. Fans of aggressive pro-diversity efforts are likely to see all of these as examples of Googlers trying to cultivate a tolerant and diverse workplace. In their view, advocating these kinds of views creates a workplace environment where women and minorities don’t feel comfortable—and so the company is forced to choose between tolerating outspoken employees like Damore and Gudeman or attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce.

But for many conservatives, the lawsuit will read as a damning indictment of Google’s corporate culture. Damore’s defenders on the right will interpret a line like “4/4 committee members were white. Boo!” as straightforward evidence of discrimination against white people.