It’s Not Just Google: White Male Discontent Has Come to the Tech Industry

August 14, 2017, 12:24 PM UTC

Google isn’t the only Silicon Valley employer being accused of hostility to white men.

Yahoo! Inc. and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. were already fighting discrimination lawsuits brought by white men before Google engineer James Damore ignited a firestorm — and got himself fired — with an internal memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts and claiming women are biologically less suited than men to be engineers.

The Yahoo case began last year when two men sued, claiming they’d been unfairly fired after managers allegedly manipulated performance evaluations to favor women. They claim Marissa Mayer approved the review process and was involved in their terminations, and last month a judge ordered the former chief executive be deposed. TCS, meanwhile, is fighting three men who claim the Mumbai-based firm discriminates against non-Indians at its U.S. offices.

A growing backlash against diversity advocates has gained momentum with the election of Donald Trump and his embrace of right-wing media figures including Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart News until joining Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump has ordered a review of affirmative action policies in higher education, proposed banning transgender people in the military and advocated curbing immigration of non-English speakers to the delight of conservatives who say they’ve been muzzled by liberals.

While gender discrimination complaints aren’t uncommon in the tech industry, they are usually made by women, who are outnumbered by nearly 3 to 1. Ellen Pao put Silicon Valley’s “Bro Culture” front and center in 2015 during a trial pitting her against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She claimed there was a sexually charged atmosphere where men preyed on their female coworkers and that she’d been blocked from promotion and fired for her gender. She lost, but the trial rallied other women to speak out. That year Microsoft Corp. and Twitter Inc. were both sued on behalf of female engineers claiming men are favored for advancement. This year, Travis Kalanick was ousted as Uber Technologies Inc. CEO after allegations of rampant sexual harassment at the company.

Damore’s memo circulated widely internally, then became public over the weekend as some right-wing websites lionized him for speaking out. Over 10 pages, he complained that efforts at Google to boost diversity were themselves a form of discrimination that are “unfair, divisive, and bad for business.” He filed a complaint with a federal labor board last Monday and says Google smeared his reputation by firing him. He told Bloomberg he planned to take further legal action, though he declined to say on what grounds.

In the Yahoo case, Scott Ard, an editor for the company’s auto, shopping and small business portals until January 2015, alleged that Mayer encouraged supervisors to evaluate employees using “subjective biases and personal opinions, to the detriment of Yahoo’s male employees.” Women eventually accounted for more than 80 percent of the top management positions in the media division, according to the suit.

Yahoo denies wrongdoing and argued against Mayer’s deposition, saying she had no special knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the firings of Ard and Gregory Anderson, another online news editor who said he was fired, along with hundreds of staffers, in 2014.

A Yahoo spokeswoman defended the performance review process in February 2016 after Anderson filed his complaint, saying “fairness is a guiding principle.” Anderson was slated for termination in April 2014 because he was on the “bad managers list,” Yahoo said in a filing last month. The evaluation process ranked him in the bottom 5 percent.

Mayer, who isn’t a defendant, couldn’t be reached for comment and it isn’t clear from court filings whether she’s already given her deposition. She was CEO from 2012 until June, when Verizon Communications Inc. completed its acquisition of Yahoo’s internet assets.

Verizon’s Oath, the unit that includes Yahoo’s assets, declined to comment on the Mayer deposition. The men’s attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The case against TCS was filed in 2015 by Steven Heldt, a white U.S.-born IT worker who accused the company of “grossly disproportionate” favoritism toward hiring people of South Asian descent. Heldt, who said he was terminated after about 20 months, claims he experienced “substantial anti-American sentiment” during his time there.

TCS calls their claims unfounded, arguing the men haven’t proven of a pattern of discrimination, in part because their statistical analysis doesn’t properly account for foreign workers legally hired with U.S. work visas.

Next month the men will ask a judge to allow potentially thousands of non-Indians who say they were either blocked from jobs or, if hired, benched and eventually fired, to be included in their suit. TCS says their case isn’t suited to be a class action based on common allegations for all job seekers because it uses varied hiring methods — some applicants go directly through the company while others are recruited by outside vendors.

The cases are Ard v. Yahoo Inc., 16-cv-05635, and Anderson v. Yahoo Inc., 16-cv-00527, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).; and Heldt v. Tata Consultancy Services, 15-cv-01696, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).

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