Google on Monday fired James Damore, the engineer who wrote a 10-page memo saying the gender gap in computer engineering is due to “biological” differences that disadvantage women. All of this has sparked a heated debate. But among many lawyers, Google’s action was clear-cut.
Richard Ford is a professor at Stanford Law School. He says that while the government must honor your First Amendment right to free speech, the law is pretty clear that employers don’t have to.
"Employers have broad latitude to fire employees based on ideas that are antithetical to the ethos of the workplace," Ford said.
There are exceptions. An employer can’t fire somebody because of their race, religion or -- in California -- because of their political activity.
In the case of Damore, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a blog post that to suggest a group of colleagues have traits that make them less “biologically suited” to engineering is contrary to Google’s basic values.
But legally, if Google didn’t fire Damore, the company could have been liable.
At Google, pay raises and promotions for engineers are determined in part by peer review. So if Damore gave a woman engineer a negative review, the woman could have a case because of his memo, Ford said.
"There is case law with respect to that," Ford said. "Employers have been held liable when they’ve done nothing to repudiate or correct for those points of view."
And at that point, he said, the burden is on the employer to prove that sexism wasn’t a factor in blocking a female engineer’s promotion or pay raise.