Workplace Diversity Challenged by White Men

John Krautzel
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Two white men are challenging the notion that companies should foster workplace diversity programs and advancement at the cost of finding the best possible employees. Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, faces two lawsuits regarding its diversity practices. The outcomes of the lawsuits could alter how employers handle pushes for diversity.

What's at Stake

The two men accuse YouTube and Google of deliberately not hiring whites. A recruiter filed a lawsuit against YouTube in early March 2018, and he accused the video-sharing site of discriminating against white and Asian male applicants while favoring women and other people of color. Arne Wilberg spent nine years at Google, and he alleges Google told recruiters to cancel interviews with candidates who weren't female, black or Hispanic after setting diversity goals. He claims he was fired in November 2017 in retaliation for opposing those alleged workplace diversity policies.

James Damore, a former Google employee, sued the firm because he says he was terminated for discussing his conservative political views that are contrary to Google's workplace diversity practices. Damore famously wrote a 10-page manifesto to fellow Googlers in which he says the tech giant has trouble hiring women simply because women aren't as interested in software engineering as men are. Damore complained that Google's diversity strategy is a failure and that the company should use a purely merit-based system for recruiting and promoting.

Can These Lawsuits Succeed?

Discrimination is hard to prove, and reverse discrimination is even more difficult to win because it has a higher standard to pass. The plaintiffs must somehow show that there are policies that specifically state that Google and YouTube deliberately pass on hiring white men. Judges look very closely at the details of each case to determine what workplace diversity practices are in place. There's nothing wrong with having quotas for hiring diverse people, but policies cannot discriminate against anyone at all, even white people.

One successful reverse discrimination lawsuit occurred in 2009 when white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, challenged test results for promotions. The fire department threw out test results because whites score higher on them compared to blacks, and administrators feared they would face a discrimination lawsuit from minority firefighters. Men filed around 22 percent of discrimination complaints with the EEOC from 2014 to 2017, so these kinds of litigation are nothing new. The fact that Google is the defendant in two cases simultaneously is why the tech industry is watching these cases closely.

Implications for Silicon Valley Firms and Workplace Diversity

Courts allow targeted outreach and training programs for under-represented groups with the express purpose of correcting imbalances of having too many of one group in a particular firm. Silicon Valley and the tech industry face continued scrutiny for hiring practices and a lack of diversity when it comes to women and minorities, and these two lawsuits could exacerbate those efforts.

Investors, advocacy groups and employees are increasing pressure on big-name employers to increase workplace diversity and fix problems with sexual harassment and income inequality. These efforts may contradict legal principles if plaintiffs win these lawsuits. What do you think? Share in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Ambro at


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