Lawsuit Describes Google’s Culture of Secrecy

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 29, 2017

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GoogleGoogle is being sued by an unnamed employee who claims he has been falsely blamed for leaking information to the press.

The Lawsuit

According to the suit, Google has violated California labor laws on numerous grounds. 

The complaint alleges that Google requires its employees to sign a confidentiality agreement that prohibits employees from disclosing confidential information to “to anyone … even to an attorney of the government.”

According to the complaint, “confidential information” is broadly defined as “without limitation, any information in any form that relates to Google or Google’s business that is not generally known,” including “employee data.” The lawsuit quotes documents that state that any employee who discloses confidential information “may be terminated, held personally liable, or subject to prosecution.” 

The lawsuit further alleges that Google warns that “it’s also a bad idea to post your opinions or information about Google on the Internet, even if not confidential, unless you’re authorized to do so as part of your job. . . . And never discuss the company with the press unless you’ve been explicitly authorized to do so by Corporate Communications.” Additionally, Google employees cannot talk to members of the press “without prior clearance from Google’s communications team.”

One of the more shocking allegations is that Google warns its employees to not discuss any potential illegality or wrongdoing within the company. One court document states,

Google restricts what Googlers say internally in order to conceal potentially illegal conduct. It instructs employees in its training programs to do the following: Don’t send an e-mail that says “I think we broke the law” or “I think we violated this contract.” The training program also advises employees that they should not be candid when speaking with Google’s attorneys about dangerous products or violations of the law. The program advises Googlers that some jurisdictions do not recognize the attorney-client privilege, and “Inside the U.S., government agencies often pressure companies to waive the privilege.” Google advises Googlers that they “should write e-mails with the assumption that somebody outside of Google, who may not be friendly to us, will get to read it.”

The lawsuit also claims that Google prohibits its employees from writing creative fictional novels about tech companies in Silicon Valley without letting Google have approval of the final draft.

The lawsuit alleges that leaks and whistleblowing are monitored and investigated by a “Global Investigations Team,” led by a former special agent at the United States State Department. This Global Investigations Team conducts “interviews with the subjects of investigations, as well as the victims and witnesses,” and “provides recommendations regarding discipline for these infractions when requested.”

Google’s Response

A Google spokesperson released an official statement saying that, “We will defend this suit vigorously because it’s baseless. We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information. Transparency is a huge part of our culture. Our employee confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.”

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