Free Speech? Not at Work.

by George Barron

Google recently fired a software engineer, James Damore, over his 10-page memo, entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” Mr. Damore complained in his memo that Google’s efforts to promote equal representation of women in tech and leadership positions was “unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”
Mr. Damore’s memo also voiced his opinion that the reason there were fewer women in those positions was because of “personality differences” between men and women that made women less capable in the workplace. Sounds a bit sexist, right?
Google thought so too, and fired Mr. Damore. Google said that the memo violated the company’s rules by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes.” Mr. Damore has threatened legal action, saying “As far as I know, I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment.”
Seems reasonable, right? Everybody has an opinion, and the First Amendment guarantees us the right to express that opinion, right?
Not really. The First Amendment, like the rest of the Constitution, limits what the government can do. It doesn’t limit was employers can do, unless the employer happens to be part of the government, or a “state actor.”
Google is a private company, and like other private companies it does not have to respect the free speech rights of its employees. Employers also have to guard against activities that might contribute to a hostile work environment. To misquote the famous Miranda warning, when you work for a private company “anything you say can and will be used against you.” Sorry, Mr. Damore.
I don’t know enough about the situation to give an opinion about Mr. Damore’s legal action, and California may have some state laws that protect him. But I can say with confidence that in Pennsylvania, most workers do not have free speech protections in the workplace. Anything you say can and will be used against you, so think before you speak – or send a sexist memo to the whole company.

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