scorecardAn ex-Google engineer's sexual harassment lawsuit claims she found a male co-worker hiding under her desk
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An ex-Google engineer's sexual harassment lawsuit claims she found a male co-worker hiding under her desk

An ex-Google engineer's sexual harassment lawsuit claims she found a male co-worker hiding under her desk
Tech3 min read

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Business Insider Australia

  • A former Google software engineer has filed a lawsuit full of disturbing allegations of harassment by male colleagues and discrimination by Google.
  • Loretta Lee worked at Google for eight years before being fired in 2016.
  • She said she once found a male colleague hiding under her desk, and was the subject to lewd comments.
  • Lee said she felt pressured to report the desk incident to human resources, and only reluctantly did so, fearing retaliation from her coworkers.
  • She said she was subsequently ostracised by colleagues who revised her software code and stalled her projects.
  • Google says it takes the allegations seriously. The company is dealing with multiple lawsuits alleging it discriminates against employees on the basis of gender or their political views.

Former Google engineer Loretta Lee has filed a lawsuit against her former employer full of disturbing allegations of harassment - including one time she allegedly found a male co-worker hiding beneath her desk.

According to Lee's suit, she had been away from her desk and returned to find the man on all fours underneath her desk. He popped out and said: "You'll never know what I was doing!," the suit claims.

Lee said the colleague was a relative stranger, and that she feared he had installed a camera beneath her desk. The same co-worker approached her the following day, grabbed her lanyard, asked "What's your name?" and in doing so grazed her chest.

In her suit, Lee said the incident was just one example of the harassment she endured during her eight years with Google, a unit of Alphabet.

Loretta Lee


Former Google engineer Loretta Lee

The lawsuit says: "In a male-dominated workplace, Plaintiff was frequently subjected to sexual harassment as her male co-workers engaged in inappropriate behavior and made lewd remarks to her. [Google] failed to prevent this severe and pervasive sexual harassment."

She said male colleagues would "spike" her drinks with whisky, and then "laugh about it."

Another texted her asking if she wanted a "horizontal hug" while yet another turned up at her apartment unannounced with a bottle of alcohol, asking if she needed help fixing a device. One man slapped her at a party for no apparent reason, she alleged.

Some of the alleged harassment was more childish, with colleagues firing nerf guns at Lee.

Lee said she joined Google when she was 26, and that its "bro culture" was the only working environment she knew.

When the desk incident happened in January 2016, Lee said she was encouraged to report it to Google's human resources department, and she reluctantly did so. She was then allegedly ostracised by her managers, who she claims made unnecessary revisions to her code and stalled her projects. Eventually, Google persuaded her to take medical leave again in February. When she returned, she was fired for "performance issues," her suit claims.

Lee's suit claims she had been a good performer at Google, winning coding competitions, and receiving good feedback from managers until her firing.

Lee said Google discriminated against her after she was in a serious car accident

Things started to fall apart in July 2015, when Lee said she was overworked and took some time out for her mental health, the suit says. She returned in November, but was almost immediately in a serious car accident and needed more time out to recover.

Up until that point, she said, Google had been supportive, but her managers were not. When she wanted time out for physical therapy appointments, a senior manager allegedly said she had "better be doing that on [her] own time."

The lawsuit said: "Google's bro-culture contributed to Plaintiff's suffering frequent sexual harassment and gender discrimination, for which Google failed to take corrective action. Additionally, Google discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of her disability, failed to accommodate her, retaliated against her, and terminated her."

Google has yet to give its side of the story. The company said in a statement: "We have strong policies against harassment in the workplace and review every complaint we receive. We take action when we find violations-including termination of employment."

Lee's suit follows a similar lawsuit filed by another ex-Google engineer, Tim Chevalier. Chevalier said he was fired for expressing overly liberal political opinions on internal message boards. The messages, he said, included information about combatting harassment and white supremacy.

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