Three former employees of Google have sued the tech giant, alleging a breach of its “Don’t be evil” motto. The contract signed by the three employees includes this provision, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit comes from three former Google engineers, namely Rebecca Rivers, Sophie Waldman, and Paul Duke. The engineers claim they adhered to the “Don’t be evil” provision in their contracts when they arranged a petition seeking Google to stop working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in November 2019 under President Trump. The petition encouraged fellow Googlers to take a public stance against working with the CBP.
Google then fired the three employees, in addition to a fourth named Laurence Berland, in November 2019. At the time, the company cited “clear and repeated violations” of Google’s data security policies for their termination. However, the four individuals have denied accessing and leaking confidential Google documents.
“Google realized that ‘don’t be evil’ was both costing it money and driving workers to organize. Rather than admit that their stance had changed and lose the accompanying benefits to the company image, Google fired employees who were living the motto,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is also investigating the firing of the three Googlers
The lawsuit was filed on November 29 at the Santa Clara County Superior Court. The petitioners are seeking monetary damages alleging that Google acted against them when they were trying to stop the company from committing “evil” acts.
As NPR points out, deciding what constitutes “evil” in this context could be a challenge, especially for the jury. However, the petitioners’ lawyer, Laurie Burgess, claims this is not new for the courts.
“There are all sorts of contract terms that a jury is required to interpret: ‘don’t be evil’ is not so ‘out there’ as to be unenforceable. Since Google’s contract tells employees that they can be fired for failing to abide by the motto, ‘don’t be evil,’ it must have meaning,” Burgess said.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is also looking into the termination of the three Google employees. It said in May that Google “arguably violated” federal labor laws with the firing of Rivers, Duke, and Waldman.
Google isn’t commenting on this development, though we expect to hear more about the lawsuit in the months ahead.