Google Settles With U.S. Over Workers’ Complaints It Stifled Dissent

WASHINGTON — Google said Thursday that it had reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board over complaints from multiple employees who say the company has stymied dissent, including one who has said he was fired for being an outspoken conservative.

Google plans to explain to employees the rights they have as workers under federal law, like the ability to discuss workplace conditions, said Jenn Kaiser, a Google spokeswoman. And it will tell the employees that Google will not retaliate against them for exercising those rights.

“Under that settlement, we have agreed to post a notice to our employees reminding them of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act,” Ms. Kaiser said in a statement. “As a part of that notice, we will also remind employees of the changes we made to our workplace policies back in 2016 and 2017 that clarified those policies do not prevent employees from discussing workplace issues.”

The settlement requires the approval of an official at the N.L.R.B. According to a document obtained by The New York Times, a regional director said this week that she was approving the settlement.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that Google had reached a settlement.

Accusations of political bias at major tech companies and their services have become a powerful rallying cry among conservatives. A White House gathering of President Trump’s social media allies this year was pegged, in part, to those criticisms of Google and other major technology companies.

The companies have always denied the accusations of bias. Even some prominent conservatives who have repeated the charges admit that they are anecdotal and have never presented hard evidence that engineers in Silicon Valley intentionally skewed the way their systems display content online to reflect liberal positions.

But politics have roiled the environment on Google’s campus since Mr. Trump’s 2016 election, which stunned many in Silicon Valley.

An engineer’s 2017 memo arguing that innate differences between men and women were responsible for gender imbalances in the technology industry sparked a debate over the bounds of appropriate speech at the company, which has traditionally given employees wide latitude to express their views. That engineer, James Damore, was fired and quickly embraced by the political right, appearing on Fox News and at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

A lawyer for the N.L.R.B. said last year that his firing was legal.

The settlement Google announced on Thursday covers two other complaints: one from an unidentified employee and another filed by an engineer who was fired in 2018.

The company said the engineer, Kevin Cernekee, violated multiple internal policies, including downloading confidential documents to a personal device. Mr. Cernekee has said he was fired because of his conservative politics.

Mr. Cernekee has said he is a traditional conservative, but a former colleague has said that he defended white nationalist positions while at the company. Mr. Cernekee, who has denied that he supports white nationalism, declined to comment.

Google has maintained that its decision to fire Mr. Cernekee had nothing to do with the engineer’s political views. In her statement, Ms. Kaiser said that there was “absolutely no mention of political activity in the proposed settlement.”

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