Manager Says Google Policies Are Evil, Indeed

Dave Tartre

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Google muzzles its employees with unconstitutional confidentiality agreements, which prevent them even from writing “a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,” a manager claims in court.

Google’s slogan, famously, is “Don’t be evil,” John Doe says in his lawsuit in Superior Court, but he says the company doesn’t live up to it.

In his Dec. 20 lawsuit, Doe says a Google higher-up falsely accused him of leaking information to the press and used him as a scapegoat to intimidate other employees.

Doe claims the confidentiality agreements violate the California Labor Code and are so far-reaching they restrict what Google employees can talk about with each other, with their spouse or a prospective employer.

Google said in a statement that the lawsuit is “baseless,” and that “transparency is a huge part of our culture.”

But Doe, who still works for Google, claims employees face firing or a lawsuit if they violate the policies, particularly if they blow the whistle on product defects or illegal practices.

“The unnecessary and inappropriate breadth of the policies are intended to control Google’s former and current employees, limit competition, infringe on constitutional rights, and prevent the disclosure and reporting of misconduct. The policies are wrong and illegal,” he says in the complaint.

Doe adds: “Google defines essentially everything as ‘confidential information.’ However, a publicly traded company with Google’s reach, power, and close ties to the federal government cannot be permitted to declare to its workforce that everything it does and everything that happens — from the location of a water cooler to serious violations of the law — is ‘confidential,’ upon the pain of termination and the threat of ruinous litigation.”

He asks the court to order Google to change its confidentiality agreements and award penalties to him, the state and all current and former employees bound by the agreement.

In his 24-page lawsuit, which names only Google and Roes 1-10 as defendants, Doe says a public shaming by Brian Katz, who directs Google’s investigations, prompted him to sue.

Doe says Katz falsely informed roughly 65,000 co-workers that he had been fired for leaking information to the press, though he did not leak it, and he still works for the company.

Google said in its statement that its “confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.”

Doe says that’s not true. “This case does not concern Google’s trade secrets, consumer privacy, or information that should not be disclosed under the law,” he says; the confidentiality agreements are unconstitutional.

For instance: “Google not only prohibits employees from speaking about Google, it also prohibits employees from writing creative fiction. Among other things, Google’s Employee Communications Policy prohibits employees from writing ‘a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,’ unless Google gives prior approval to both the book idea and the final draft,” according to the complaint.

He seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction and penalties on 12 causes of action, including restraint of trade, whistleblower violations and other violations of the Labor Code.

He is represented by Chris Baker, with Baker Curtis & Schwartz in San Francisco.