By Rob Copeland
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Kevin Cernekee was still a "Noogler" --
Google's term for a new employee -- when his conservative take on
political and social issues raised hackles within the search
After several posts on the company's freewheeling internal
message boards in early 2015 rankled some colleagues, he was given
an official warning from human resources about conduct deemed
disrespectful and insubordinate. Around that time, a senior manager
wrote on the boards that he added Mr. Cernekee to a "written
blacklist" of employees he wouldn't work with.
Mr. Cernekee, 41 years old, spent much of the next three years
battling Google over his perceived violations, and pressing his
contention that right-leaning employees were being treated
unfairly, according to interviews, documents and copies of posts on
Google's internal message boards. In one example from 2017 that he
reported to human resources, a manager publicly asked on a board
about employees holding views like Mr. Cernekee's: "Can't we just
fire the poisonous assholes already?"
In June 2018, Mr. Cernekee was fired.
Google told Mr. Cernekee in a termination letter that he was let
go for misuse of equipment including its remote-access software
system. Mr. Cernekee, who hasn't spoken publicly before about his
status at Google, denies that. He says he was fired for being an
outspoken conservative in famously liberal Silicon Valley.
"Historically, there's been a lot of bullying at Google," Mr.
Cernekee says. "There's a big political angle, and they treat the
two sides very differently."
A Google spokeswoman, Jenn Kaiser, declined to comment on the
specific incidents described in this article involving Mr. Cernekee
and other employees. "We enforce our workplace policies without
regard to political viewpoint," Ms. Kaiser said in a statement.
Political bias in the technology world is a headline topic in
Washington, D.C., where Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Trump
administration are increasingly ramping up heat on Alphabet Inc.'s
Google and other tech platforms over perceived bias against
conservatives. Google's global policy chief testified in July to
Congress that political leanings don't factor into the company's
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) on Friday
afternoon called the allegations of political bias troubling. In a
statement after The Wall Street Journal detailed Mr. Cernekee's
claims, Mr. McCarthy said Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai had
earlier assured him that all viewpoints were welcome, but "time and
again, we see actions that contradict free and open
Mr. Cernekee's allegations also highlight Google's mounting
struggle to rein in its fractious workplace, which has long been a
place of debate over free expression. The company historically has
tolerated, and even encouraged, argument on hot-button issues.
Employees globally walked out last year to protest
multimillion-dollar exit packages for executives accused of sexual
misconduct, and Google subsequently changed some of its conduct
Google has long promoted an open corporate culture, including
message boards in which employees across the world share opinions
on both business and personal topics.
Recently, though, it has taken steps to put limits around
certain employee behavior. Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker has
threatened to fire workers poking around inside the company for
information on contentious topics like Google's cloud-computing
relationship with the U.S. Defense Department, people familiar with
the matter say. Mr. Walker wrote to staff in May, "more than ever,
we need to take good care of the information we hold."
In a mid-July memo widely distributed to staff, Google said it
had contacted law enforcement about an employee who released
unspecified confidential information externally. The email reminded
staffers to flag suspected behavior to its "Stop Leaks" team.
"Lively debate is a hallmark of Google's workplace culture," Ms.
Google employees across the political spectrum say rancor has
risen since the 2016 election. Conservative staff started an
affinity group where workers must apply to be let in. Liberal
sympathizers of Google's employee walkout separately founded their
own group, dubbed "transparency and ethics." A group called "free
speech" is little used, employees say, as the term becomes more
In July, a white YouTube employee, Christopher Cukor, was filmed
calling the police on a black man he suspected of breaking into his
San Francisco apartment building. Mr. Cukor later apologized after
it turned out the man was visiting a friend. Google owns
In the aftermath, some Google and YouTube employees wrote on
internal message boards that Mr. Cukor's presence made them feel
unsafe, and that they would refuse to work with him, several people
familiar with the matter said. Mr. Cukor wrote in a blog post that
his father had been murdered by a trespasser outside his home.
Last week, a senior Google engineer, Gregory Coppola, gave
interviews to a pair of conservative media outlets and suggested
the company was politically biased toward the left. Hours later, he
received a call from human resources putting him on administrative
leave and disabling his access to internal systems, according to a
person familiar with the matter.
The walkout organizers, who lean left, also have complaints.
They say the company retaliated against them because of their
activism. Former YouTube marketing manager Claire Stapleton says
she was "branded with a scarlet letter" and demoted because of her
outspokenness. Google says it investigated her claims and found
them false. Ms. Stapleton quit in June with a severance package,
Mr. Cernekee didn't receive a payout. A Chicago-area native, he
is in some ways the prototypical Silicon Valley engineer. He
repairs old computer equipment in his spare time and bikes on the
His political stances, however, are outliers. Some 95% of Google
employee donations to candidates in the 2018 midterm elections went
to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics,
citing public disclosures.
Before moving to the Bay Area in 2015 to work on Google's laptop
lines, Mr. Cernekee says, the region's dominant liberalism struck
him as "just like something to occasionally read online and laugh
at. At Google, I jumped right into the middle of it, where, holy
crap, these people actually exist."
Early on, he stood up for a colleague who publicly suggested
that Google not consider race or gender in hiring decisions. "A
bunch of people jumped on him and started cussing him out and
calling him names," Mr. Cernekee says. "And then his manager showed
up in the thread and denounced him in public. I was very disturbed
In other posts from 2015, some of which were later cited by the
company in a warning letter, he criticized a self-described
feminist colleague on an internal message board, suggesting she
should be more resilient to criticism. In another thread, he
suggested the company add a clear statement of banned opinions to
the employee handbook so conservative employees would know where
the lines were drawn.
In July 2017, Google software engineer James Damore posted an
internal memo suggesting that men were biologically better suited
for tech jobs than women. Mr. Cernekee, who says he doesn't share
that view, offered to buy Mr. Damore lunch out of curiosity.
The two were splitting a thin-crust supreme pizza when Mr.
Cernekee's phone buzzed with a news alert that Mr. Damore's memo
had been leaked publicly. Within a week, Mr. Damore was fired. Mr.
Damore is currently in arbitration with Google over his
At the time, Mr. Pichai, Google's CEO, publicly denounced Mr.
Damore's views. To suggest that "colleagues have traits that make
them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not
OK," Mr. Pichai said in an email to employees.
Mr. Cernekee also crossed with Republicans internally. One
fellow engineer active in the company's conservative circles,
Michael Wacker, internally circulated a dossier describing Mr.
Cernekee as "the face of the alt-right" at Google. Mr. Cernekee
rejects the label. He says he disagrees with alt-right philosophy,
which promotes white nationalism, and considers himself a
mainstream Republican who supports President Trump. Mr. Wacker was
separately fired this spring; he says Google human resources warned
him his behavior was "rude and dishonest."
Conservative employees say they've tried to raise concerns about
unfair treatment to top Google executives at the company's weekly
all-hands meetings, but their queries haven't made it through
because questions must be voted up by a large number of employees
to be heard.
Mr. Cernekee calls himself a whistleblower and has filed
complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. Several were
denied; the original is pending. He's submitted materials including
a human resources warning letter that says he violated the "Respect
Each Other" section of the company's code of conduct.
Among the posts cited was one in which he wrote that "many
Googlers strongly disagree with Social Justice theory and even more
Googlers are concerned about the 'internet mob' shaming and
intimidation tactics employed in support of this agenda." The human
resources executive wrote: "Many Googlers were offended by your
comments." Human resources flagged one such comment in which Mr.
Cernekee described himself as a second-class citizen, saying
Google's conduct policy bans "unbusinesslike behavior."
The NLRB declined to comment.
Mr. Cernekee says he has spent more than $100,000 on legal fees.
He now works for another technology company.
"I very much regret joining Google," he says. "I figured it
would be a good place to see intelligent arguments through. It
didn't really turn out how I expected."
Write to Rob Copeland at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 01, 2019 17:19 ET (21:19 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.