A lawsuit brought by a former Google employee who says that the company’s “bro culture” led to daily sexual harassment is being expanded as a class action after Google tried to push the case into sealed, secret arbitration.
Loretta Lee, a software engineer, was fired from her role at Google in February 2016 after eight years at the firm. Her lawsuit claims that she had raised complaints about harassment and had sought medical leave shortly before she was fired. Her male co-workers spiked her drinks with alcohol, shot nerf darts at her, and made sexual comments to her, Lee’s lawsuit states. One coworker texted her asking for a “horizontal hug,” while another hid under her desk.
On Friday, attorneys representing Google tried to have Lee’s lawsuit dismissed and forced into arbitration, which would have prevented it from proceeding in public—in stark contrast to Microsoft, which recently ended its practice of enforcing arbitration agreements in cases of sexual harassment. (Microsoft is currently facing a class action lawsuit alleging that it routinely paid women less than their male colleagues).
“While she may have forgotten about the Agreement in 2018, she cannot claim she was surprised back in 2008 when she signed it,” attorneys for Google wrote in a court filing.
Lee’s attorney, Richard Hoyer, re-filed the lawsuit as a class action, in hopes of representing all female harassment victims at Google.
“Women do worse in arbitration than men compared to court,” Hoyer said in an email to Gizmodo. “We think it’s unfortunate that Google professes to be interested in the rights of women and diversity in the workplace, while forcing those same women to face arbitration panels where women are substantially underrepresented.”
“Today, the Court granted our request to have the case designated as complex and reassign it to the proper department,” Hoyer added. The ‘complex’ designation will allow the case to be considered as a class action.
A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about the class action complaint. In a statement issued when Lee initially filed her lawsuit, a Google spokesperson said, “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.”