Google employees across the globe are walking out now to protest sexual harassment

Google employees are fed up with the search giant’s lack of transparency when it comes to handling sexual harassment and misconduct allegations.

This morning, thousands of Googlers from San Francisco to Dublin are walking out in hopes of bringing real change to the company. The protest follows a New York Times report last week that revealed Google had provided Android co-creator Andy Rubin a $90 million payout package despite credible allegations of sexual misconduct made against him.

The protestors have five key asks:

  1. An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination.
  2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.
  3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
  4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
  5. Elevate the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the chief executive officer and make recommendations directly to the board of directors. And appoint an employee representative to the board.

Plans of the walkout emerged earlier this week, just days after the bombshell NYT report was released. According to BuzzFeed, some 200 Googlers began staging the protest; the group quickly grew to thousands, including non-U.S. Googlers. Google CEO Sundar Pichai had reportedly condoned the protest in an internal e-mail to employees Tuesday.

“Earlier this week, we let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned for today and that employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate,” Pichai said in a statement provided to TechCrunch today. “Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward. We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Pichai also responded to the NYT report with a letter co-signed by vice president of people operations Eileen Naughton, admitting that 48 people had been terminated at the company for sexual harassment in the past two years alone, including 13 senior employees.

We’ll be at the San Francisco protest, which begins at 11:10 a.m. PST. Here’s a look at protestors around the globe this morning.

Google terminated 48 employees for sexual harassment in the last two years

Earlier today, The New York Times published a bombshell story about Google’s payout to Andy Rubin following reports of sexual misconduct by the Android creator.

In the wake of the piece, CEO Sundar Pichai and VP People Operations Eileen Naughton co-signed a memo sent to Google staff detailing what it deems “an increasingly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority.”

The note, which was obtained by TechCrunch via a Google spokesperson, notes that 48 people have been terminated at the company for sexual harassment in the past two years alone. That list includes 13 individuals in a senior management position or higher.

The letter notes that “none of these individuals received an exit package,” a clear reference to the $90 million reportedly paid to Rubin in $2 million monthly installments. Rubin left Google in 2014. We’ve made the full letter available below.

We have also reached out to Playground — the hardware incubator Rubin launched in 2015 — for comment. We will update the story when we hear back.

From: Sundar

Hi everyone,

Today’s story in the New York Times was difficult to read.

We are dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace. We want to assure you that we review every single complaint about sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, we investigate and we take action.

In recent years, we’ve made a number of changes, including taking an increasingly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority: in the last two years, 48 people have been terminated for sexual harassment, including 13 who were senior managers and above. None of these individuals received an exit package.

In 2015, we launched Respect@ and our annual Internal Investigations Report to provide transparency about these types of investigations at Google.  Because we know that reporting harassment can be traumatic, we provide confidential channels to share any inappropriate behavior you experience or see. We support and respect those who have spoken out. You can find many ways to do this at go/saysomething. You can make a report anonymously if you wish.
We’ve also updated our policy to require all VPs and SVPs to disclose any relationship with a co-worker regardless of reporting line or presence of conflict.

We are committed to ensuring that Google is a workplace where you can feel safe to do your best work, and where there are serious consequences for anyone who behaves inappropriately.

Sundar and Eileen

Y Combinator survey confirms what we already know — female founders are too often victims of sexual harassment

Y Combinator has released the results of a survey, completed in partnership with its portfolio company Callisto, highlighting the pervasive role of sexual harassment in venture capital and technology startups.

Callisto, a sexual misconduct reporting software built for victims, is a graduate of YC’s winter 2018 class. The company sent a survey to 125 of YC’s 384 female founders, asking if they had been “assaulted or coerced by an angel or VC investor in their startup career.”

Eighty-eight female founders completed the survey; 19 in total claimed to have experienced some form of harassment.

More specifically, 18 said that inappropriate experience consisted of “unwanted sexual overtures;” 15 said it was “sexual coercion;” four said it was “unwanted sexual contact.”

As part of the release of the survey findings, YC announced they’ve established a formal process for their founders to report harassment and assault within Bookface, the startup accelerator’s private digital portal for its founders.

“You can report at any time, even years after the incident took place,” YC wrote in the blog post. “The report will remain confidential. We encourage other investors to set up similar reporting systems.”

First Round Capital is another investor to recently poll its founders on issues of sexual misconduct. Similarly, the early-stage investor found that half of the 869 founders polled were harassed or knew a victim of workplace harassment.

As for Callisto, the 7-year-old non-profit said it will launch Callisto for founders, a new tool that will support victims. Using Callisto, founders can record the identities of perpetrators in the tech and VC industry. The company will collect the information and refer victims to a lawyer who will provide free advice and the option to share their information with other victims of the same perpetrator. From there, victims can decide if they want to go public together with their accusations.

Tech’s widespread sexual harassment problem is not new, but more women and victims of harassment have come forward in recent years as the #MeToo movement encourages them to name their harassers. Justin Caldbeck, formerly of Binary Capital, and former SoFi chief executive officer Mike Cagney are among the Silicon Valley elite to be ousted amid allegations of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era.

Sexual harassment suit filed against Pilot AI co-founders and investor NEA

Rachel Moore, the former Director Of Product at computer vision startup Pilot.AI is suing its co-founders CTO Robert Elliot English and CEO Jonathan Su for sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful discharge.’s Human Resources provider Trinet and its Series A investor NEA are also named in the suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court today. The plaintiff, a 24-year-old Master’s graduate of Stanford University, is seeking a trial by jury.

The suit alleges that Su and English created a hostile work environment colored by sexually inappropriate comments, including discussions of pornography, English’s sexual exploits, and that he “participated in an anal sex workshop at Burning Man led by a famous porn star.” Only when Moore agreed to participate in the crude comments was she awarded more status in the company and a $20,000 raise.

English allegedly later invited Moore into his office, closed the door, dropped his pants while talking about his ex-girlfriend, and initially refused to let Moore leave. For rejecting his advance, he then began to retaliate against her in the workplace according to the suit. It states that Moore reported the incident to Su who dismissed the allegations as English being “sexually frustrated.” Su is said to have encouraged Moore to ask English out on a dinner date to resolve the issue, which she eventually declined out of fear for her safety.

Su later urged Moore not to file a formal report about the incident in English’s office because it could “end the company”, according to the suit. She did, prompting an investigation by law firm WilmerHale. Moore agreed to participate only if the law firm remained neutral and did not act as counsel for NEA’s Rick Yang, who sits on the board, is said to have overseen the investigation.

The suit calls the investigation “an utter sham and a cover up”. NEA allegedly took the position of refusing to disclose the investigation report claiming attorney-client privilege. Yang is said to have eventually disclosed a summary of the report that confirmed the pants-dropping incident, but found there was nothing sexual about it, and there were no repercussions for the founders. After the investigation, Moore allegedly requested a leave of absence rather than returning to the office where she would have to report to the defendents. When additional leave requests were ignored, she inquired about her employment status, and allegedly ceased to be paid or have access to company systems, and concluded she had been terminated. 

The charges filed include quid pro quo sexual harassment, hostile working environment harassment, discrimination based on gender, retaliation, failure to prevent or correct harassment, aiding and abetting harassment, wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional stress, failure to pay wages, waiting time penalities, and violations of labor and business codes.

Requests for comment from English, Su,, NEA, and Trinet were not returned before press time. Moore’s law firm Arena Hoffman LLP issued this statement to TechCrunch from its attorney’s Ron Arena:

“As alleged in the complaint, Ms. Moore contends that she was subjected to a sexually charged workplace, where Pilot AI’s founders discussed anal sex workshops, boasted of sexual conquests on Tinder, named a server ‘Deep Head,’ and let executives drop their pants in a meeting and call Ms. Moore’s footwear ‘fuck me boots.’  Ms. Moore alleges that her complaints were ignored, then swept aside in a sham investigation – after she declined the CEO’s direction to meet her pants-dropping supervisor alone on a dinner date.”

We’ll have more info as it becomes available and will update with comments from the parties involved.

Tall Poppy aims to make online harassment protection an employee benefit

For the nearly 20 percent of Americans who experience severe online harassment, there’s a new company launching in the latest batch of Y Combinator called Tall Poppy that’s giving them the tools to fight back.

Co-founded by Leigh Honeywell and Logan Dean, Tall Poppy grew out of the work that Honeywell, a security specialist, had been doing to hunt down trolls in online communities since at least 2008.

That was the year that Honeywell first went after a particularly noxious specimen who spent his time sending death threats to women in various Linux communities. Honeywell cooperated with law enforcement to try and track down the troll and eventually pushed the commenter into hiding after he was visited by investigators.

That early success led Honeywell to assume a not-so-secret identity as a security expert by day for companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Slack, and a defender against online harassment when she wasn’t at work.

“It was an accidental thing that I got into this work,” says Honeywell. “It’s sort of an occupational hazard of being an internet feminist.”

Honeywell started working one-on-one with victims of online harassment that would be referred to her directly.

“As people were coming forward with #metoo… I was working with a number of high profile folks to essentially batten down the hatches,” says Honeywell. “It’s been satisfying work helping people get back a sense of safety when they feel like they have lost it.”

As those referrals began to climb (eventually numbering in the low hundreds of cases), Honeywell began to think about ways to systematize her approach so it could reach the widest number of people possible.

“The reason we’re doing it that way is to help scale up,” says Honeywell. “As with everything in computer security it’s an arms race… As you learn to combat abuse the abusive people adopt technologies and learn new tactics and ways to get around it.”

Primarily, Tall Poppy will provide an educational toolkit to help people lock down their own presence and do incident response properly, says Honeywell. The company will work with customers to gain an understanding of how to protect themselves, but also to be aware of the laws in each state that they can use to protect themselves and punish their attackers.

The scope of the problem

Based on research conducted by the Pew Foundation, there are millions of people in the U.S. alone, who could benefit from the type of service that Tall Poppy aims to provide.

According to a 2017 study, “nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.”

The women and minorities that bear the brunt of these assaults (and, let’s be clear, it is primarily women and minorities who bear the brunt of these assaults), face very real consequences from these virtual assaults.

Take the case of the New York principal who lost her job when an ex-boyfriend sent stolen photographs of her to the New York Post and her boss. In a powerful piece for Jezebel she wrote about the consequences of her harassment.

As a result, city investigators escorted me out of my school pending an investigation. The subsequent investigation quickly showed that I was set up by my abuser. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration demoted me from principal to teacher, slashed my pay in half, and sent me to a rubber room, the DOE’s notorious reassignment centers where hundreds of unwanted employees languish until they are fired or forgotten.

In 2016, I took a yearlong medical leave from the DOE to treat extreme post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Since the leave was almost entirely unpaid, I took loans against my pension to get by. I ran out of money in early 2017 and reported back to the department, where I was quickly sent to an administrative trial. There the city tried to terminate me. I was charged with eight counts of misconduct despite the conclusion by all parties that my ex-partner uploaded the photos to the computer and that there was no evidence to back up his salacious story. I was accused of bringing “widespread negative publicity, ridicule and notoriety” to the school system, as well as “failing to safeguard a Department of Education computer” from my abusive ex.

Her story isn’t unique. Victims of online harassment regularly face serious consequences from online harassment.

According to a  2013 Science Daily study, cyber stalking victims routinely need to take time off from work, or change or quit their job or school. And the stalking costs the victims $1200 on average to even attempt to address the harassment, the study said.

“It’s this widespread problem and the platforms have in many ways have dropped the ball on this,” Honeywell says.

Tall Poppy’s co-founders

Creating Tall Poppy

As Honeywell heard more and more stories of online intimidation and assault, she started laying the groundwork for the service that would eventually become Tall Poppy. Through a mutual friend she reached out to Dean, a talented coder who had been working at Ticketfly before its Eventbrite acquisition and was looking for a new opportunity.

That was in early 2015. But, afraid that striking out on her own would affect her citizenship status (Honeywell is Canadian), she and Dean waited before making the move to finally start the company.

What ultimately convinced them was the election of Donald Trump.

“After the election I had a heart-to-heart with myself… And I decided that I could move back to Canada, but I wanted to stay and fight,” Honeywell says.

Initially, Honeywell took on a year-long fellowship with the American Civil Liberties Union to pick up on work around privacy and security that had been handled by Chris Soghoian who had left to take a position with Senator Ron Wyden’s office.

But the idea for Tall Poppy remained, and once Honeywell received her green card, she was “chomping at the bit to start this company.”

A few months in the company already has businesses that have signed up for the services and tools it provides to help companies protect their employees.

Some platforms have taken small steps against online harassment. Facebook, for instance, launched an initiative to get people to upload their nude pictures  so that the social network can monitor when similar images are distributed online and contact a user to see if the distribution is consensual.

Meanwhile, Twitter has made a series of changes to its algorithm to combat online abuse.

“People were shocked and horrified that people were trying this,” Honeywell says. “[But] what is the way [harassers] can do the most damage? Sharing them to Facebook is one of the ways where they can do the most damage. It was a worthwhile experiment.”

To underscore how pervasive a problem online harassment is, out of the four companies where the company is doing business or could do business in the first month and a half there is already an issue that the company is addressing. 

“It is an important problem to work on,” says Honeywell. “My recurring realization is that the cavalry is not coming.”

Former software engineer accuses Uber of “degrading conduct” toward women in new lawsuit

A former Uber software engineer filed a lawsuit against the company today in the Superior Court of California, accusing it of retaliating against her for after she reported sexual harassment and discrimination.

The complaint by Ingrid Avendaño, who worked at Uber from 2014 to 2017, alleges that Uber’s workplace “was permeated with degrading, marginalizing, discriminatory and sexually harassing conduct toward women.” Avendaño’s account and her claim that “this culture was perpetuated and condoned by numerous managers, including high level company leaders” is similar to the description of Uber’s internal culture presented by Susan Fowler, also a former Uber engineer, in her pivotal February 2017 blog post. Fowler’s account led to an internal investigation, multiple firings and, along with other company scandals, contributed to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick.

Avendaño’s complaint (“Ingrid Avendaño v. Uber Technologies, Inc.,” Case No. CGC-18-566677 in the Superior Court of California, San Francisco County) claims that when she tried to report misconduct, she faced “blatant retaliation, including denial of promotions and raises, unwarranted negative performance reviews and placement on an oppressively demanding on-call schedule that had detrimental effects on her health. She was also threatened with termination.” Avendaño eventually resigned from Uber, the lawsuit says.

Avendaño is represented by Outten & Golden, a law firm that specializes in employee rights. Last October, Avendaño and two other Latina software engineers were the named plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Uber for allegedly discriminating against women and people of color. But Avendaño later opted out of the collective action and, according to Outten & Golden, did not participate when Uber agreed to a settlement in March 2018. The lawsuit filed by Avendaño today is separate from that settlement.

Women alleging sexual assault by Uber drivers asked to be freed from forced arbitration

A group of women alleging sexual violence from Uber drivers have sent an open letter to the company’s board, asking to be released from the mandatory arbitration clause in the Uber app’s terms of service. The letter was posted on the website of Wigdor LLP, a New York law firm that filed a class action lawsuit against Uber last year on behalf of women who said they were assaulted or raped by Uber drivers and blame the company’s background check procedures.

“Uber’s message to the public are: ‘we help improve access to transportation, and make streets safer’ [and] ‘We do the right thing, period,’” read part of the letter, which was signed by fourteen women. “Secret arbitration is the opposite of transparency. Forcing female riders, as a condition of using Uber’s app, to pursue claims of sexual assault and rape in secret arbitration proceedings does not ‘make streets safer.’ Silencing our stories deprives customers and potential investors from the knowledge that our horrific experiences are part of a widespread problem at Uber.”

They added “when we created Uber accounts, we believed Uber’s promise to provide a ‘safe ride.’ We trusted a company operating in the space of transportation for hire to mean what it says, and we never thought that Uber would perpetuate physical violence against women. But this is exactly what Uber is doing and what is has been doing for years.”

Once a relatively obscure legal issue, mandatory arbitration agreements are now under scrutiny by activists who say they force victims of harassment and discrimination into silence. Opponents of mandatory arbitration say that the closed hearings, which include non-disclosure clauses and are often performed by a third-party arbitrator paid by the company itself, prevent victims from taking further action even as social movements like #MeToo continue to gain ground.

Many companies require employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the number of non-union, private sector employees covered by mandatory arbitration clauses has increased dramatically since the early 2000s.

Wigdor LLP noted that some companies, like Microsoft, are ending forced arbitration clauses, especially for sexual harassment, while a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the United States Congress that would end forced arbitration of sexual harassment cases in workplaces, and called on Uber to follow suit.

In an exchange last month with former Uber engineer Susan Fowler on Twitter, Dara Khosrowshahi, who succeeded Travis Kalanick as Uber’s chief executive officer last August, signaled that he is willing to consider ending forced arbitration. “I will take it seriously, but we have to take all of our constituents into consideration,” he wrote.

Fowler, whose blog post detailing sexual harassment at the company led to an internal investigation and contributed to the resignation of Kalanick, is now backing a new bill in California that would forbid companies from forcing employees to enter mandatory arbitration agreements in response to sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination complaints.

TechCrunch has contacted Uber for comment.

Hootsworth helps you address sexual harassment and other workplace issues

Harassment is clearly an issue everywhere. Hootsworth, founded by harassment legal expert Janine Yancey, is launching today to provide a resource and tool for employees and employers to address harassment and other workplace issues.

“For a long time now I’ve seen that the current structure is not designed to get great results on either side for employees or employers,” Janine Yancey told TechCrunch.

With Hootsworth, anyone can ask questions to human resource experts and employment lawyers. Within 24 hours, you can expect to get a personalized response from a neutral third party. In order to broadly provide this information to the masses, Hootsworth will anonymize your question and then post the answer for all to see. At launch, Hootsworth has more than 1,000 searchable questions and answers people can browse.

“The design and purpose is to provide people real guidance that is actionable in real time,” Yancey said. “Often times we’re suggesting language to use or emails to write because, as domain experts, we know what you need to do to get the results you need to get.”

Hootsworth is totally free to use, in part thanks to it being under the umbrella of Emtrain, a platform that sells compliance and learning platforms to employers like Pinterest, Netflix and BuzzFeed. In 2016, Emtrain launched an unconscious bias course in partnership with Paradigm, a diversity consulting company.

“We’re excited to bring a solution and the service to the marketplace that is really needed right now,” Yancey said. “We want to change the way people get information. Right now, a lot of times people kind of close their eyes and guess or feel stifled because they don’t feel comfortable going to HR.”

A look back at Uber’s hellish year

 We endured plenty of the drama Uber packed in for every five-hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes of 2017 — and what a year! From protests to a major sexual harassment probe, the ousting of co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, the crowning of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, the promising hints of that long-awaited IPO and an on-going lawsuit with Google over self-driving cars.… Read More