Despite ‘Credible’ Sexual Misconduct Claims, Google is Paying Android Creator Andy Rubin $90 Million in Severance

Andy Rubin (Getty Images)
Andy Rubin (Getty Images)

Google gave Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software, a hero’s farewell when he left the company in October 2014.

“I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” Larry Page, Google’s chief executive then, said in a public statement. “With Android he created something truly remarkable — with a billion-plus happy users.”

What Google did not make public was that an employee had accused Mr. Rubin of sexual misconduct. The woman, with whom Mr. Rubin had been having an extramarital relationship, said he coerced her into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013, according to two company executives with knowledge of the episode. Google investigated and concluded her claim was credible, said the people, who spoke on the condition that they not be named, citing confidentiality agreements. Mr. Rubin was notified, they said, and Mr. Page asked for his resignation.

Google could have fired Mr. Rubin and paid him little to nothing on the way out. Instead, the company handed him a $90 million exit package, paid in installments of about $2 million a month for four years, said two people with knowledge of the terms. The last payment is scheduled for next month.

Mr. Rubin was one of three executives that Google protected over the past decade after they were accused of sexual misconduct. In two instances, it ousted senior executives, but softened the blow by paying them millions of dollars as they departed, even though it had no legal obligation to do so. In a third, the executive remained in a highly compensated post at the company. Each time Google stayed silent about the accusations against the men.

The New York Times obtained corporate and court documents and spoke to more than three dozen current and former Google executives and employees about the episodes, including some people directly involved in handling them. Most asked to remain anonymous because they were bound by confidentiality agreements or feared retribution for speaking out.

The transgressions varied in severity. Mr. Rubin’s case stood out for how much Google paid him and its silence on the circumstances of his departure. After Mr. Rubin left, the company invested millions of dollars in his next venture.

Sam Singer, a spokesman for Mr. Rubin, disputed that the technologist had been told of any misconduct at Google and said he left the company of his own accord.

“The New York Times story contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation,” Mr. Rubin said in a statement after the publication of this article. “Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign by my ex-wife to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle.”

Mr. Rubin’s exit from Google after an inappropriate relationship was previously reported, but the nature of the accusation and the financial terms have not been disclosed.

In settling on terms favorable to two of the men, Google protected its own interests. The company avoided messy and costly legal fights, and kept them from working for rivals as part of the separation agreements.

When asked about Mr. Rubin and the other cases, Eileen Naughton, Google’s vice president for people operations, said in a statement that the company takes harassment seriously and reviews every complaint.

“We investigate and take action, including termination,” she said. “In recent years, we’ve taken a particularly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority. We’re working hard to keep improving how we handle this type of behavior.”

After publication of this article, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, and Ms. Naughton wrote in an email to employees that the company had fired 48 people for sexual harassment over the last two years and that none of them received an exit package.

“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,” Mr. Pichai and Ms. Naughton wrote.

Some within Google said that was not enough.

“When Google covers up harassment and passes the trash, it contributes to an environment where people don’t feel safe reporting misconduct,” said Liz Fong-Jones, a Google engineer for more than a decade and an activist on workplace issues. “They suspect that nothing will happen or, worse, that the men will be paid and the women will be pushed aside.”

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SOURCE: Daisuke Wakabayashi and Katie Benner
The New York Times