THE LATEST TWIST in Google's ongoing damage control over alleged sexual misconduct allegations is a lawsuit brought about by one of the company's own shareholders. And if successful, it could mean big changes in the way the company operates.
James Martin's lawsuit claims that members of Alphabet's board of directors - including big names such as Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt - were involved in covering up sexual harassment allegations against former executives. This mainly focuses on the huge severance payments paid out to Andy Rubin, who ran the Android division until 2014, and Amit Singhal, who was head of search until 2016. Accusations against both men were deemed to be credible, the lawsuit contends, although both deny the allegations.
The lawsuit intends to demonstrate that the company's cover-up resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, accumulated via expensive payouts to executives accused of misconduct, lost productivity thanks to November's global walkout protest and the harder to define loss of brand reputations suffered.
To make things a little more interesting, Martin's lawsuit cites minutes taken from Alphabet board committee meetings, where the alleged behaviour of its executives was discussed. The documents were obtained via a "shareholder inspection demand", and Google duly provided them on the understanding that they would not be published. As a result, redactions are apparent on at least eight pages from the 82-page suit.
The lawsuit doesn't seem to be about damages, as such, but more about changing the way Google behaves in future. It wants Alphabet to let non-management shareholders nominate at least three board members, and to change voting rights to ‘one share, one vote' - a marked departure from the ten votes each executive enjoys per share.
The suit also wants an end to non-disclosure agreements and arbitrations that have sought to prevent sexual misconduct allegations from going public, albeit not too successfully in the very public cases highlighted in this lawsuit.
Given CEO Sundar Pichai has already announced that there will be no more forced arbitrations, that last point may not be too necessary, and it may reach another sticking block on different ambitious aim: asking executives to return their exit packages.
Suffice it to say that won't be happening without a fight. As Ellen Winick Stross, a member of Rubin's legal team told Reuters: "like much of the recent media coverage, mischaracterises Andy's departure from Google and sensationalises claims made about Andy by his ex-wife. Andy left Google voluntarily. Andy denies any misconduct, and we look forward to telling his story in court." µ
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