One Of The Googlers Who Started The Petition Against Heritage President Is Claiming Retaliation

REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

J. Arthur Bloom Deputy Editor
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A Google employee at the center of an internal petition to oust Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James from Google’s artificial intelligence advisory board claimed Friday that Google has since taken actions to edge her out of the company.

At a “retaliation town hall” on Friday, Meredith Whittaker divulged more details about her situation in a written statement, which has been obtained by The Daily Caller. The Daily Caller was also the first to report Whittaker’s involvement in the petition. (RELATED: Exclusive: Meet The Five Google Staffers Who Circulated The Petition To Drop Kay Coles James)

Whittaker claims that since she organized a walkout in November, Google has taken retaliatory action, though it is clear that she and the company have some substantial differences of vision. Much of the evidence laid out in her statement indicates that Google was unhappy with her involvement in the Project Maven debacle and the James appointment, as opposed to labor organizing.

“What changed between the years in which my work at AI Now received support and encouragement at Google and now is that I began to organize,” the statement reads.

“I have received ‘exceeds expectations’ in perf for the last 3 years, all of these ratings related to the value of my work at AI Now, and the significant contributions that my work has made to AI ethics at Google and the wider world. … But after helping organize the Walkout, things suddenly changed. In late December, my manager told me I would likely need to leave Cloud. I had been in the Cloud organization for years. In March, this escalated,” her statement continued.

At that point, Whittaker claims that someone on the Research and Machine Intelligence team was willing to have her transferred over from Cloud.

“This was a couple of days before April 1, when a group including me drafted a petition, pushing back against Google’s appointment of Kay Coles James to Google’s AI ethics board,” reads Whittaker’s statement. “We argued that including someone who was vocally anti-trans and anti-immigrant undermined both Google’s workplace commitments to equity and inclusion, and Google’s purported commitment to just and ethical AI.” (EXCLUSIVE: Documents Detailing Google’s ‘News Blacklist’ Show Manual Manipulation Of Special Search Results)

“Two weeks after the petition was sent I learned from my manager that the transfer had been killed,” Whittaker’s statement continues. “When I joined my regular 1:1, my HRBP was included. This had not been announced to me beforehand. My manager told me that my role would be changed. That in the role now open to me, I would be tasked with administrative work balancing the open source budget and coordinating Season of Documentation, and would serve as a Google liaison to the Linux Foundation and other standards organizations. The implication was that my choice was to quit, or take this new role. Continuing my work at AI now and my work on AI ethics was not on the table.”

“I wrote Jeff Dean, asking him what happened, and why an organization that placed so much emphasis on ethics, bias, and fairness work didn’t see my work at AI Now as worth supporting. I have yet to hear back.”

Google lobbied the National Labor Relations Board to narrow protections for workers organizing on company e-mail systems, Bloomberg reported last week. Whether these protections would even apply in Whittaker’s case is an open question.

“Ethics requires a willingness to analyze and confront power,” reads the conclusion of Whittaker’s statement. “We’ve done this at AI Now in our research. And I’ve done this by organizing and working for change within Google and the industry at large. Ethics means standing up for others, and prioritizing justice. It means working against discrimination, and the practices of retaliation that ensure we are too afraid to speak up and call out bad decisions by the company.”

“Now more than ever we need to reject retaliation, and reject the culture of fear and silence that retaliation creates. It’s not OK, Google. The stakes are too high. We need to support each other, and support all of those willing to speak up for what is fair, and right, and just. This is how we build the workplace and the world we want.”

A request for comment from Google’s press team inquiring whether they dispute any aspects of Whittaker’s account has gone unreturned as of press time. Activists are planning a company-wide “day of action” on May 1.