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Google employees accuse tech giant of mishandling sexual assault case

The company's handling of sexual assault is again coming under fire.

 

Viola Stefanello

Tech

Published Jul 18, 2021   Updated Jul 21, 2021, 9:57 am CDT

Less than a year after it promised to improve its response to sexual misconduct within the company, Google has recently been accused of mishandling a rape case. 

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Ming Tao is an associate account strategist who also goes by the name Jessica and has been working at Google since 2020 after graduating at the top of her class at Cornell University. She came forward with her story after allegedly having been raped by a colleague in late May.

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“On May 28, 2021, at roughly 4:00 am, Jessica was staying in a house with 3 of her Google co-workers, when one of them raped her. This led to a spiral of events involving multiple suicide attempts, extensive medical care bills, and legal fees. After months of being the #1 performing sales rep on her team, Jessica was abruptly put on unpaid leave, left to move home and fend for herself,” reads the GoFundMe page raising money to cover the medical and legal costs Tao has incurred since May. 

The GoFundMe has currently raised over $16,000. Tao didn’t not comment to the Daily Dot, posting on Instagram after inquires that she was “logging off” and publicly asked not to be reached out to.

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Tao’s story was shared with her consent by Raksha Muthukumar, a software engineer at Google and an organizer for the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) who set up the fundraiser [Disclosure: Muthukumar has written for the Daily Dot]. Tao herself shared links to the story on her Instagram account, asking her followers to sign a related petition launched by the AWU.

“Google decided she’s not their problem anymore,” wrote Muthukumar on GoFundMe. “Once again, Google executives and HR have demonstrated that they will choose to protect sexual predators over survivors. After months of following the protocols dictated by HR, all that Jessica has to show is extensive medical and legal bills. Google has more than sufficient resources for appropriate intervention, but instead they have chosen to subject Jessica to further harm and instability.” At the same time, according to a page set up by the AWU to raise awareness, the man who allegedly raped Tao continues to be fully employed. 

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“Jessica hasn’t been paid while Google is taking its sweet time investigating,” pointed out fellow Googler Rob Ruenes on Twitter. “Why would ANYONE ever come to HR with their story when they run the risk of losing their income for weeks?” According to Google, the matter is purely bureaucratic: the reason her leave has yet to be paid is apparently due to a technicality that the company says it is working to resolve.

The #JusticeForJessica campaign calls for Tao to be fully compensated by the company for her time on disability leave—which has included five hospitalizations and several suicide attempts—and to do the same for any future employee who may endure a similar experience.

It is far from the first time the tech giant has been criticized for the way it handles sexual harassment and assault. In the fall of 2018, 20,000 Google employees and contractors took part in a mass walkout to protest “a culture of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators in the face of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse of power.” The walkout was sparked by the news that Google had protected three different executives who were accused of sexual misconduct, even awarding Android co-founder Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package after the claim that he had forced a woman to perform oral sex on him was found credible by the company. 

After the walkout, CEO Sundar Pichai and vice president for people operations Eileen Naughton wrote an email to Google employees saying that: “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.” Pichai also said the company had fired 48 employees for sexual harassment in the two previous years.

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The statements were followed by a company document titled “Our commitments and actions,” in which Google promised, among other things, that it would “clearly outline what Googlers can expect during the investigation process and/or how their concerns will be handled” and “create better care services around investigations to support those who have raised concerns” including, “check-ins and support for accommodations and leave.” 

After a wave of shareholder lawsuits, the Mountain View company agreed in September 2020 to greater oversight by its board of directors on future sexual misconduct cases and committed to investing $310 million on corporate diversity programs in the years to come.

Even before Jessica Tao’s story was made public, though, in April 2021 over 2,000 Alphabet workers publicly signed a letter calling the company out for protecting harassers, stating that it still does not side with those who face harassment in the workplace. “This is a long pattern where Alphabet protects the harasser instead of protecting the person harmed by the harassment,” the letter says. “The person who reports harassment is forced to bear the burden, usually leaving Alphabet while their harasser stays or is rewarded for their behavior.”

Google maintains that it has made significant improvements to its overall process, introducing new care programs for employees who report concerns and improving its investigation process. When asked for comment about Tao’s case, a Google spokesperson stated that: “We have been in frequent contact with Ming during her leave, and continue to provide support and make resources available to her. We take her complaint incredibly seriously, and we’re actively working on this matter.”

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For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or Samaritans (U.K.).

If you are a teen dealing with depression or other mental health issues, see PBS.org for a list of resources and organizations that can help you. If you are an adult, see Mental Health Resources.

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*First Published: Jul 18, 2021, 10:51 am CDT