“As has already been confirmed in public court filings, in early 2019, Alphabet’s Board of Directors formed a special litigation committee to consider claims made by shareholders in various lawsuits relating to past workplace conduct,” Alphabet said in a statement to The Washington Post. CNBC first reported the news Thursday.
Allegations that Alphabet suppressed claims of misconduct prompted walkouts worldwide last year by more than 20,000 Google employees. They blasted the company’s “culture of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators” following a New York Times report that it sent Android creator Andy Rubin off with a $90 million exit package in 2014 after — and without disclosing — credible allegations of sexual misconduct had emerged. Rubin denied the report in a Twitter post, saying it was “part of a smear campaign” tied to a divorce and custody battle.
After the walkouts, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai notified employees that 48 people had been fired during a two-year span over sexual harassment or misconduct allegations, including 13 senior managers. “None of these individuals received an exit package,” he wrote in the memo. Weeks later, Google said it would make several changes requested by employees, including putting an end to forced arbitration and increasing its transparency on reported incidents of sexual misconduct.
The employee backlash occurred as the company — and the broader tech industry — has come under heightened public scrutiny for its workplace culture, which is predominantly white and male. But Alphabet’s review also comes as corporations are increasingly having to answer for executives’ personal lapses or misconduct in the #MeToo era. That has led to a rash of C-level departures, including at Intel, REI and, just last week, McDonald’s.
Alphabet’s lawyers are currently investigating claims against Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, who has been accused of having relationships with several employees, which is discouraged under company policy. A former Google legal employee, Jennifer Blakely, published a Medium post in August claiming she and Drummond had an extramarital affair for several years and now have a child. She claimed he abandoned them both, refusing to discuss child support, and later had relationships with other employees at the company.
“Other than Jennifer, I never started a relationship with anyone else who was working at Google or Alphabet. Any suggestion otherwise is simply untrue,” Drummond said in a statement to BuzzFeed in August.
Drummond married another employee, who was not in his chain of command, over Labor Day weekend, CNBC reported.
Relationships between executives and subordinates have come under increased scrutiny, even when consensual, leading many companies to implement policies to address them. On Friday, McDonald’s fired chief executive Steve Easterbrook for violating a company policy that prohibits managers from having romantic relationships with subordinates.
Easterbrook’s separation agreement bars him from working for such competitors as Burger King, Yum Brands and Starbucks, as well as convenience store giants such as 7-Eleven and Wawa, for the next two years. But his exit was sweetened by a severance package that Equilar analysts say is worth as much as $42 million.
In February, the chief executive of outdoor apparel and gear retailer REI, Jerry Stritzke, resigned after a board investigation determined he failed to disclose a relationship with “the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.” Board chairman Steve Hooper told employees that the “perceived conflict of interest” should have been disclosed under company policy.
Last year, Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich stepped down after an investigation showed he had a consensual relationship with an employee in violation of the chipmaker’s non-fraternization policy. His exit followed high-profile departures at Lululemon, Priceline, Best Buy and Pixar over workplace romances or misconduct.
Greg Bensinger contributed to this report.