Google’s “don’t be evil” mantra may have been more of a philosophical statement than a practical reality these days, but former staff members now want to hold the company to it. Apparently, ex-engineers Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman have sued Google for allegedly violating the “don’t be evil” motto of the company’s code of conduct. According to them, Google fired them for organizing worker opposition to controversial projects, like working with the Trump-era Customs and Border Protection for instance. They were said to be punished for pointing out evil like Google instructed, to put it in other words. Or that’s how they see it.
The ex-employees claimed that Google rejected the famous phrase as it was both expensive and leading workers to organize too. Google apparently decided it was better to fire people than admit its approach had changed and give up the “accompanying benefits” that came with the well-known classic motto.
But the lawsuit may be too vague. What defines evil, after all? Then again, plaintiff lawyer Laurie Burgess argued that “don’t be evil” was specific enough that it could be enforceable. The saying “must have meaning” if it was in the company code and thus binding, Burgess said.
Google has previously accused all of the workers of repeatedly violating data security policies by obtaining or sharing confidential data, but the workers and other critics have said this was just a cover for retaliatory action from the company.
The lawsuit may not lead to harsh penalties. For instance, Google settled with Berland over his departure. This could be an important case as it might open the door to other complaints about the company’s ethical standards. We will see.
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