Lawsuit Alleges ‘Bro Culture’ at Google Led to Violence, Sexual Harassment Against Female Engineer

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai

As a young, female software engineer at male-dominated Google, Loretta Lee was slapped, groped and even had a co-worker pop up from beneath her desk one night and tell her she’d never know what he’d been doing under there, according to a lawsuit filed against the Mountain View tech giant.

The lawsuit comes as Silicon Valley’s tech industry, dominated by white men, has been roiled by a series of sexual-misconduct scandals and gender-related upheavals as the MeToo movement against sexual assault of women has prompted a nationwide cultural reckoning.

Google has been the focus of considerable gender-related controversy. It fired engineer James Damore over his memo claiming a biological basis for the gender gap in tech. It sacked a transgender man who then sued the firm, claiming he was ousted for opposing bigotry in the workplace. And lawsuits by the U.S. Department of Labor and a former Googler have accused the company of paying women less than men.

Now, Lee’s lawsuit — filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court — alleges the company failed to to protect her, saying, “Google’s bro-culture contributed to (Lee’s) suffering frequent sexual harassment and gender discrimination, for which Google failed to take corrective action.”

She was fired in February 2016 for poor performance, according to the suit.

Google said Friday that it has “strong policies against harassment in the workplace” and reviews every complaint it receives.

“We take action when we find violations, including termination of employment,” a company spokesperson said.

Lee started at the company in 2008 in Los Angeles and later switched to the firm’s Mountain View campus, according to the suit, which asserts that she “was considered a talented and rising star” who received consistently “excellent” performance reviews.

Lee claims that the “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment she experienced included daily abuse and egregious incidents. In addition to making lewd comments to her and ogling her “constantly,” Lee’s male co-workers spiked her drinks with whiskey and laughed about it; and shot Nerf balls and darts at her “almost every day,” the suit alleges.

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