Google Sued and Accused by Employee of Being Too Confidential

December 21, 2016, 9:59 PM UTC
Google Opens New Berlin Office
BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 26: A visitor passes the Google logo on September 26, 2012 at the official opening party of the Google offices in Berlin, Germany. Although the American company holds 95% of the German search engine market share and already has offices in Hamburg and Munich, its new offices on the prestigious Unter den Linden avenue are its first in the German capital. The Internet giant has been met with opposition in the country recently by the former president's wife, who has sued it based on search results for her name that she considers derogative. The European Commission has planned new data privacy regulations in a country where many residents opted in to have their homes pixeled out when the company introduced its Street View technology. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Adam Berry Getty Images

A Google product manager has sued the company, accusing it of unlawfully prohibiting employees from sharing concerns with coworkers, shareholders or the press, and maintaining a “spying program” to prevent leaks.

In the class action lawsuit filed on Tuesday in California state court in San Francisco, the employee, identified only as “John Doe,” says Google’s employment agreements are illegally broad and violate various state labor laws.

The plaintiff says the confidentiality agreements that all Google employees are required to sign essentially bar workers from saying anything about the company, even to each other. The agreements define confidential information as “without limitation, any information in any form that relates to Google (GOOGL) or Google’s business that is not generally known,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says the agreements violate state laws that provide that employers cannot bar workers from discussing their wages or disclosing information to government agencies.

A spokesperson for Mountain View, California-based Google, a unit of Alphabet, said in a statement that the claims were “baseless,” and said the agreements were designed to protect sensitive business information and not to bar employees from discussing working conditions.

“We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information,” the spokesperson said.

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Google is facing similar claims from an unidentified employee in proceedings before the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, which recently struck down confidentiality agreements and other employment contracts that could discourage workers from discussing concerns at T-Mobile USA (TMUS), DirectTV (T), and a number of other companies.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff says that to enforce its policies, Google forces workers to spy on each other through a program called “Stopleaks” that requires them to report the disclosure of confidential information. Employees can be fired or sued for violating employment agreements or failing to report leaks, according to the lawsuit.

“Google continues to insist that Googlers refrain from plainly communicating with others that Google is violating the law or endangering consumers,” the complaint says.

Plaintiffs in court cases are rarely allowed to proceed anonymously absent extraordinary circumstances. The Google worker says that being identified could harm his reputation at the company and his future job prospects.

The plaintiff is seeking to represent all current and former Google employees who signed the agreements. The lawsuit says the company has about 65,000 workers.

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