Google said employees don't have a right protest its choice of customers in the first day of the 'Thanksgiving Four' trial
By: Business Insider
August 25, 2021 at 08:24 AM EDT
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Google employees have no legal right to protest the company's choice of customers, according to a lawyer representing the tech giant in court.
On Tuesday, Google representatives challenged a complaint by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it had violated the National Labor Relations Act when it fired five workers involved in internal protest and unionizing efforts towards the end of 2019.
NLRB prosecutors are now challenging the tech giant in court to prove it didn't violate employment law. Should Google lose, the case could have lasting ramifications for a company that has experienced a wave of employee activism over the past four years.
While still at the company, ex-employees involved in the case helped circulate a petition among colleagues demanding Google end its work with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. On Tuesday, Google insisted this wasn't the reason they were sacked, but also suggested the company would be within its rights to fire employees for such activity.
"Even if Google had, for the sake of argument, terminated the employees for their protest activities, for protesting their choice of customers, this would not violate the Act," Google's lawyer Al Latham told the court, according to Bloomberg.
Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman became known as the "Thanksgiving Four" after the company sacked them around the holiday season, alleging they had leaked company information in violation of its policies, an allegation all of them deny.
They were subsequently joined by Kathryn Spiers, who had created an internal browser extension allowing employees to bombard Google's legal chief Kent Walker's email inbox with automated messages, after he clamped down on internal access to documents. Spiers was fired in December 2019.
The ex-Googlers subsequently filed complaints via the NLRB, alleging that Google terminated their contracts in an attempt to crush unionization efforts.
Under the Trump administration, then NLRB leader Peter Robb accused Google of illegally firing Berland and Spiers, but rejected the other three's claims.
However, this decision was overturned after Joe Biden fired and replaced Robb with Peter Sung Ohr.
In court, Google's lawyers said the fired employees had not sought "to improve employees' terms and conditions of employment," but had engaged in a "purely political protest that sought to use Google's government contracts, or potential government contracts, as leverage."
Insider approached Google for comment. The trial continues.
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