The male Google engineer fired for circulating a memo decrying the company’s diversity hiring program became the center of a heated debate on sexism, drawing scorn, cheers and even a job offer on Tuesday from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
James Damore, 28, confirmed his dismissal from Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday, after he wrote a 10-page memo that the company was hostile to conservative viewpoints shaped by a flawed left-wing ideology.
The manifesto was quickly embraced by some, particularly on the political right, branding him a brave truth-teller. Others found his views, which argued that men in general may be biologically more suited to coding jobs than women, offensive.
Assange, who is praised in some circles for exposing government secrets and castigated by others as an underminer of some nations’ security, offered Damore a job.
“Censorship is for losers,” Assange wrote on Twitter. “Women & men deserve respect. That includes not firing them for politely expressing ideas but rather arguing back.”
Legal and employment experts noted, however, that companies have broad latitude to restrict the speech of employees. Some argued that Damore’s views left Google little to no choice but to terminate his employment, since he had effectively created a hostile work environment for women.
Damore said in an email on Monday that he was exploring a possible legal challenge to his dismissal. His title at Google was software engineer and he had worked at the company since December 2013, according to a profile on LinkedIn.
The LinkedIn page also says Damore received a Ph.D. in systems biology from Harvard University in 2013. Harvard said on Tuesday he completed a master’s degree in the subject, not a Ph.D. He could not immediately be reached on Tuesday.
Gender equality in Silicon Valley
The world’s tech capital, Silicon Valley has long been criticized for not doing enough to encourage gender equality.
Most headlines have centered on powerful female executives hitting the glass ceiling or on sexual harassment lawsuits.
Many women in the industry say that less visible day-to-day bias often impedes their careers.
Industry experts note that in the early days of tech, it was mostly women who held the then-unglamorous jobs of coding. But as the value of top-notch programming became clear, it became a mostly male domain and the vast majority of programmers in the tech industry are now men.
Google’s response controversial
Some argued that although they may not agree with Damore, the company had gone too far in firing him.
“Dear @Google, Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR. Thx in advance, A dad,” Eric Weinstein, managing director at California investment firm Thiel Capital, wrote on Twitter.
Bernice Ledbetter, who teaches leadership to business students at Pepperdine University, praised Google for taking decisive action. She said it would be a different matter if Damore were writing on a personal blog rather than in a memo.
“He’s walking dangerously between who he is personally and who he is professionally,” Ledbetter said in an interview.
Others raised concerns that Damore would discriminate against his female colleagues in peer review.
Damore wrote in an email to Reuters on Monday that he was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” His memo had said that he sought the opposite.
“I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles,” Damore wrote in his memo. “I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).”
His arguments were praised by those who view so-called “political correctness” as a left-wing device to suppress conservative speech.
John Hawkins, the owner of the Right Wing News website, summed up his take in a Twitter post: “James Damore: Writes memo respectfully saying Google suppresses conservative views. Google: You’re fired for having conservative views.”
Damore and Kaepernick
Others compared Damore with Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who last year chose not to stand for the U.S. national anthem before games, in protest over police violence.
None of the NFL’s 32 teams were willing to sign Kaepernick during the recent off-season.
“Kaepernick and Damore should’ve been aware that expressing controversial opinions at work has consequences,” Twitter user Greg Lekich wrote from his account, @Xeynon.
Damore said he would fight the dismissal, noting that he had filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board before the firing.
Google, owner of the world’s most used search engine, is based in Mountain View, California. The company said it could not talk about individual employee cases.