Google violated a conservative engineer’s First Amendment rights after one of its executives publicly silenced his criticism of the tech giant, newly-released documents reveal.
According to the documents, which were obtained by Business Insider, Urs Hölzle – who fired engineer Kevin Cernekee in 2018 – told the employee that his behaviors were ‘entirely inappropriate’ and then refused to interact with him.
Cernekee, who fought with Holze after claiming Google persecuted staff with right-wing views, reported the comments to the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) and argued that the company was bashing white males.
NLRB regulators conducted an investigation and ruled that Google was ‘justified’ in firing Cernekee for his alleged improper use of company equipment. However, they also determined that Hölzle violated labor laws and infringed on the engineer’s First Amendment entitlement to free speech, including his right discuss concerns with his bosses.
The case centered on Hölzle reportedly writing Cernekee an email saying: ‘One of the things that I consider when deciding whether to spend time on an interaction is whether it is conducted in a tone that is reasonably enjoyable, and whether I feel I can have a productive conversation.
‘Your email doesn’t qualify, and since I am not required to reply I choose to spend my time on other matters,’ He also told the employee to ‘stop doing what you’re doing’ in a post on a Google+ message board.
Since the incident, Cernekee has become a celebrated icon among several prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump who claimed that Google targeted the employee for having views that were ‘out of step with the company’s liberal values’.
Newly released internal documents reveal that senior Google executive Urs Hölzle – who fired engineer Kevin Cernekee (pictured) in 2018 – had sent emails and wrote internal message board posts instructing the employee not to make political comments
Hölzle (pictured) told Cernekee that his behaviors were ‘entirely inappropriate’ and then refused to interact with him. He also told the employee to ‘stop doing what you’re doing’ in a post on a Google+ message board
Hölzle and Cernekee’s email disagreement started after the senior executive wrote an internal Google+ post that drew more than 150 responses.
‘Let’s all help make Google a supportive place for minorities of any kind,’ Hölzle wrote the post.
Cernekee responded and reportedly accused Google of ‘persecuting conservative-leaning employees who questioned the “Social Justice political agenda”‘.
He also claimed that some company leaders were trying to ‘blacklist conservative employees’ and ‘get them fired’.
The engineer asked Hölzle to ‘publicly declare’ if he supported the alleged silencing behavior and asked that Google add a ‘clear statement of banned opinions to the employee handbook so that everybody knows what the ground rules are’.
Hölzle denied the request saying, ‘I think to ask for a rule book is missing the point. But if you want a succinct summary: don’t do what you’re doing here.’
Cernekee then sent Hölzle an email asking for clarification on whether his comments on the Google+ post violated company protocols and if it was ‘against Google policy to disagree with Social Justice Theory on political threads’.
Hölzle, looping the company’s anti-harassment group into the email chain, then told Cernekee that ‘context matters a lot’ and he was ‘misunderstanding the problem’.
‘It may be perfectly fine and welcome to utter a certain sentence in a restaurant, say, but entirely inappropriate/unwelcome to say it at a funeral,’ Hölzle said.
Cernekee asked Hölzle (pictured) to ‘publicly declare’ if he supported the alleged silencing behavior and asked that Google add a ‘clear statement of banned opinions to the employee handbook so that everybody knows what the ground rules are’. He denied the request
After being shut down by Hölzle, Cernekee (pictured) furthered the issue, ultimately inviting like-minded employees to join a then-new internal mailing list dubbed ‘g+/freespeech’ where they discussed the executive’s comments, as well as other company policies
A member of the anti-harassment group echoed Hölzle’s remarks and allegedly attempted to set up a meeting with Cernekee to discuss the issue.
Cernekee declined the appointment and instead fired back at Hölzle.
He wrote: ‘As a leader, if you’re going to scold employees for something it is critical to tell them what behavioral changes you’re expecting to see going forward.
‘What is the rationale for allowing vicious, non-constructive, ad-hominem attacks to remain posted on an SVP’s G+ page?’
‘Is your G+ page an appropriate forum for other Googlers to call me a ‘shitheel’ or to make other derogatory comments?’
At this point Hölzle stopped responding to the chain.
However, Cernekee furthered the issue, ultimately inviting like-minded employees to join a then-new internal mailing list dubbed ‘g+/freespeech’ where they discussed Hölzle’s comments, as well as other company policies.
The g+/freespeech mailing list was later called out by a fellow colleague who claimed it served as a platform to post comments with racist and anti-semitic overtones.
Shortly thereafter, Cernekee filed a complaint with the NLRB after being reprimanded by the company and given a ‘final warning’ for what Google called his ‘repeated bullying and purposely antagonizing behavior on Google’s internal discussion boards.’
In the complaint he argued: ‘Google views white male bashing as a key plank of the company’s diversity efforts.’
Cernekee filed a complaint with the NLRB arguing that ‘Google views white male bashing as a key plank of the company’s diversity efforts’
Cernekee was championed by several key Republicans including former President Donald Trump.
In a string of since-deleted tweets from August 2019, Trump called out Google CEO Sundar Pichai for targeting Cernekee and wanting to make sure the then-president lost the 2020 election.
‘@sundarpichai of Google was in the Oval Office working very hard to explain how much he liked me, what a great job the Administration is doing, that Google was not involved with China’s military, that they didn’t help Crooked Hillary over me in the 2016 Election, and that they are NOT planning to illegally subvert the 2020 Election despite all that has been said to the contrary,’ Trump tweeted.
‘It all sounded good until I watched Kevin Cernekee, a Google engineer, say terrible things about what they did in 2016 and that they want to “Make sure that Trump losses in 2020.’
He continued: ‘Lou Dobbs stated that this is a fraud on the American public. @peterschweizer stated with certainty that they suppressed negative stories on Hillary Clinton, and boosted negative stories on Donald Ttump [sic]. All very illegal. We are watching Google very closely!’
The NLRB ultimately decided that Google was justified in firing Cernekee, however determined that Hölzle’s actions prior to the were ‘violation of protected worker behavior involving employment conditions’.
Cernekee received support from several key Republicans including former president Donald Trump (pictured) who claimed that Google ‘targeted the employee for having views that were ‘out of step with the company’s liberal values’
Following the Cernekee incident, Google agreed to post notices in the office informing employees of their rights to discuss working conditions and unionize.
The notice read: ‘We will not threaten employees because they presented workplace diversity issues to us and requested clarifications of permissible workplace behavior.’
Weeks after posting the notice, the company reportedly fired five other ‘activist employees’ who had advocated for left-leaning causes such as protesting immigration enforcement.
Google claims the employees were fired because they breached security rules and shared confidential documents.
Their case is currently being adjudicated in NLRB court.
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