A Google Walkout organizer just left the company, saying ‘if they won’t lead, we will’

Claire Stapleton, a longtime Google employee who helped organize a 20,000-person walkout of Google employees last November over the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations, announced today on Medium that she has left the outfit.

She cites her health, saying she is having another child this fall. But she also says the move ties to retaliation she has alleged she faced after helping stage the walkout, writing: “I made the choice after the heads of my department branded me with a kind of scarlet letter that makes it difficult to do my job or find another one. If I stayed, I didn’t just worry that there’d be more public flogging, shunning, and stress, I expected it.”

Stapleton — who joined Google in 2007 to work in global communications, later joining the Google Creative Writing Lab for just shy of two years before moving on to YouTube, where she has spent the last five years —  said in April that she and fellow organizer Meredith Whittaker had faced retaliation from Google management following the walkout.

For her part, Stapleton posted on numerous internal Google mailing lists that two months after the protest, she was told she’d be demoted from her marketing manager job at YouTube and lose half her reports. She said she then turned to human resources but that rather than find relief, the retaliation worsened.

“My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton wrote to her colleagues. A lawyer hired by Stapleton prompted the company to conduct an investigation and reverse her demotion, she said, but she added in writing that her work environment remained hostile and that “I consider quitting nearly every day.”

In leaving, Stapleton says she remains fond of Google, adding she still believes “this place is magic.” But she also traces how she arrived at such a public resignation”

I have such a simple, pure nostalgia around the years I spent at Google in Mountain View, 2007–2012, that it almost figures in my mind like a childhood — a blur of grass and sun. I used to go out of my way to check out a weekly dodgeball game (that was a thing then). I whizzed around campus on those primary-colored bikes. I dabbled in veganism. But the most potent sense-memory I have comes from five years’ worth of Fridays standing at the side of the stage in Charlie’s, half a beer deep, watching Larry and Sergey and TGIF in a kind of (half-a-beer-buzzed) state of rapture. Google’s lore, its leadership, its promise — the whole thing lit me up, filled me with a sense of purpose, of inspiration, of privilege to be here.

Fast forward a few years and I’d moved to New York, cycled through Creative Lab and landed at YouTube. As I neared the ten-year mark, my first boss, Sally Cole, who’d left Google many years before, joked that I was surely due for an existential crisis. But when I got back to work after having my son Malcolm in 2017, it wasn’t me who was having an existential crisis. It was Google itself. The world had changed, dramatically altering the context of our work and the magnitude of our decisions, especially at YouTube. Google’s always had controversies and internal debates, but the “hard things” had intensified, and the way leadership was addressing them suddenly felt different, cagier, less satisfying. It was the way that management answered the TGIF questions about the Andy Rubin payout–the sidestepping, the jokes, the total lack of accountability–that inspired me to call for the Walkout.

The walkout, which involved Google employees around the globe, was effective. One week later, Google said it would end its practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or assault. CEO Sundar Pichai further told employees Google would overhaul its reporting processes for harassment and assault to provide more transparency about reported incidents, and that it would ratchet up the pressure on employees who do not complete mandatory sexual harassment training by dinging them in their performance reviews.

The protest followed an explosive New York Times investigation last year that reported Google had protected Android co-founder Andy Rubin after he had been “credibly accused of sexual harassment.” Instead of fire him, said the Times, the company handed him a $90 million exit package, paid in installments of about $2 million a month for four years.

Rubin has strongly denied the claims.

Google has more recently said it will no longer force employees to settle disputes with the company in private arbitration, expanding on that earlier pledge to do away with the practice in cases relating to sexual harassment or assault.

In closing her Medium post, Stapleton writes that it is her “greatest hope in leaving that people continue to speak up and talk to each other, stand up for one another and for what’s right, and keep building the collective voice. I hope that leadership listens. Because if they won’t lead, we will.”