Author: Rob Copeland
Search giant’s culture wars flame anew; a senior executive contacts law enforcement over leaks.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Kevin Cernekee was still a “Noogler”—Google’s term for a new employee—when his conservative take on political and social issues raised hackles within the search giant.
After several posts on the company’s freewheeling internal message boards in early 2015 rankled some colleagues, he was given an official warning from human resources about conduct deemed disrespectful and insubordinate. Around that time, a senior manager wrote on the boards that he added Mr. Cernekee to a “written blacklist” of employees he wouldn’t work with.
Mr. Cernekee, 41 years old, spent much of the next three years battling Google over his perceived violations, and pressing his contention that right-leaning employees were being treated unfairly, according to interviews, documents and copies of posts on Google’s internal message boards. In one example from 2017 that he reported to human resources, a manager publicly asked on a board about employees holding views like Mr. Cernekee's: “Can’t we just fire the poisonous assholes already?”
In June 2018, Mr. Cernekee was fired.
Google told Mr. Cernekee in a termination letter that he was let go for misuse of equipment including its remote-access software system. Mr. Cernekee, who hasn’t spoken publicly before about his status at Google, denies that. He says he was fired for being an outspoken conservative in famously liberal Silicon Valley.
“Historically, there’s been a lot of bullying at Google,” Mr. Cernekee says. “There’s a big political angle, and they treat the two sides very differently.”
A Google spokeswoman, Jenn Kaiser, declined to comment on the specific incidents described in this article involving Mr. Cernekee and other employees. “We enforce our workplace policies without regard to political viewpoint,” Ms. Kaiser said in a statement.
Political bias in the technology world is a headline topic in Washington, D.C., where Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration are increasingly ramping up heat on Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other tech platforms over perceived bias against conservatives. Google’s global policy chief testified in July to Congress that political leanings don’t factor into the company’s decision making.
Mr. Cernekee’s allegations also highlight Google’s mounting struggle to rein in its fractious workplace, which has long been a place of debate over free expression. The company historically has tolerated, and even encouraged, argument on hot-button issues. Employees globally walked out last year to protest multimillion-dollar exit packages for executives accused of sexual misconduct, and Google subsequently changed some of its conduct policies.
Google has long promoted an open corporate culture, including message boards in which employees across the world share opinions on both business and personal topics.
Recently, though, it has taken steps to put limits around certain employee behavior. Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker has threatened to fire workers poking around inside the company for information on contentious topics like Google’s cloud-computing relationship with the U.S. Defense Department, people familiar with the matter say. Mr. Walker wrote to staff in May, “more than ever, we need to take good care of the information we hold.”
In a mid-July memo widely distributed to staff, Google said it had contacted law enforcement about an employee who released unspecified confidential information externally. The email reminded staffers to flag suspected behavior to its “Stop Leaks” team.
“Lively debate is a hallmark of Google’s workplace culture,” Ms. Kaiser said.
Google employees across the political spectrum say rancor has risen since the 2016 election. Conservative staff started an affinity group where workers must apply to be let in. Liberal sympathizers of Google’s employee walkout separately founded their own closed group, dubbed “transparency and ethics.” A group called “free speech” is little used, employees say, as the term becomes more charged.
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