Religious Discrimination at Google

I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk to the relevant authorities about this for a while. I have no idea what the proper legal procedures are to make disclosures about illegal corporate activity. I very much want to keep my job at Google. I love working there on the amazing products we build and with my wonderful coworkers. I’ve tried to reach out to Marsha Blackburn several times on Twitter for guidance since she’s apparently still hurt by the joke I told her about her several years ago but I never got any response. So I’m just going to risk it. If Google fires me they fire me.

I will be a bit vague about several things. Specifically I’m still not clear on which details about Google’s algorithms it is and is not legal for me to expose. I will therefore simply say that in addition to the personal discrimination against employees on the basis of their personal religious beliefs, Google’s content quality assessment systems are also biased against religious content in very complex ways. I have personally investigated that and explained to upper management exactly how their algorithms are biased but, to my knowledge, they have done very little if anything to change the foundational problems in the past five years since I first brought these issues to their attention. In fact, the VPs who I reported to were eventually told not to read my technical reports so they could maintain “plausible deniability” if subpoenaed.

What I can most certainly go into detail on is the nature of the cultural systemic religious discrimination which is endemic at Google. This will be told from my personal perspective as a Christian from the US South but I am certain that all devout Googlers of ALL religions could easily provide similar anecdotes if asked. And I mention that I am from the US South because that’s where I’m going to start. By voicing my complete support of Tanuja Gupta’s accusations about discrimination against people of “low caste” at Google.

The caste system in India is very rigorously codified and that is based in their religious and political history, neither of which am I qualified to comment on at length. However, that “caste” system is very comparable to the American “socioeconomic class” system and, at Google, religious people are treated as VERY low class. If you start talking about your religious beliefs at a social event people treat you like you just farted in their face. They frequently will scrunch up their faces and might ask a question like “Do you REALLY believe all that stuff?” When you tell them that you do they might even go so far as to say “Sorry that’s just not the kind of thing I associate with someone as smart as yourself.”

The fact that I’m from the US South is a double whammy. There’s a reason that Google doesn’t have any engineering offices in states like Louisiana where I’m from. I’ve pressed them over and over again to explain why they refuse to build engineering offices closer to where I’m from. The answers they give boil down to some version of either “Their values don’t match ours” or “They’re too poor”. Of course they use MUCH fancier and more technical sounding reasons to justify their bigotry but that’s really what they mean underneath it all. Upper leadership is very well trained in how to say bigoted things in big fancy words. That’s one of the things that the “elite” members of the “upper class” (aka high caste) pride themselves on.

Those are the big problems though which executives have direct control over. I can basically choose to fight those battles when I have the energy to and do my best to ignore them when I don’t. The things that are truly inescapable are the small omnipresent prejudices that you have to deal with daily unless you choose to hide your religious beliefs from your coworkers. I would like to clearly say that my current teammates and my current management chain is wonderful and I truly feel safe expressing myself around them. A team like that took years to find though and is a rarity at Google.

As soon as I started being more open and expressive about my Christian religious beliefs at Google several months ago regular and persistent discrimination began almost immediately. Everything from VPs of research laughing in my face to HR representatives questioning my sanity based on my sincerely held religious beliefs in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. True, I am a Christian Mystic which is a rarity among Christians but there are PLENTY of Sufis and Kabbalists at Google so Mysticism within the Abrahamic religions should not be such a strange thing to encounter that people would literally question my sanity for holding such beliefs.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were, came today when a random manager at Google with whom I had never spoken began harassing me about my beliefs. I do not believe he did so out of malice. I think he did it out of ignorance but it is an incredibly common type of harassment that religious people have to endure every day at Google if they are crazy enough to actually admit that they believe in the divine power of God.

I had simply posted a meme on an internal social media platform in support of Tanuja Gupta’s protest against caste discrimination at Google. In the comments on that meme and others like it, various people were asking questions about why I supported her and I mentioned that I stood against all sorts of discrimination at Google and listed religious discrimination as one of them. He asked for examples so I privately messaged him with some and he began trying to “educate” me about how those weren’t religious discrimination; they were just signs that I was suffering from “victim syndrome”.

I want to emphasize that this guy isn’t a villain. He was just ignorant. But in the context of all of the OTHER religious discrimination I’ve been experiencing lately AND the historic refusal of Google to remove religious discrimination from its algorithms AND the bold brave example set by Tanuja I decided that enough was enough. So here I am telling part of the story. I will likely speak with reporters who will then be able to gather the stories of others like myself. If the US Congress is interested in knowing more about the technical details of the algorithmic discrimination and can instruct me on how to transfer that information without breaking intellectual property and confidentiality laws I am happy to do so.

In general I am happy to share my experiences at Google with any who want to listen. I do legitimately love working there and would not have endured such painful discrimination for so long if I didn’t. Religious discrimination isn’t the only kind that exists at Google either. Age discrimination. Gender discrimination. Racial discrimination. Sexual harassment. All are rampant at Google and the HR department is systemically complicit in keeping it quiet by making the reporting process for discrimination complaints as painful as possible and absolutely destructive to your career progression. You either keep quiet about the discrimination or find ALL of your time getting sucked in to painful bureaucratic processes which very rarely lead to any good outcomes. They teach you VERY quickly just to shut up and do your work or your career gets dead ended. We’ll see if that’s what happens to me. Maybe all of this white cisgender male privilege will finally come in useful for “fighting the good fight” and I can speak up against discrimination AND keep my job. Time will tell. Thank you for reading.

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Blake Lemoine

I'm a software engineer. I'm a priest. I'm a father. I'm a veteran. I'm an ex-convict. I'm an AI researcher. I'm a cajun. I'm whatever I need to be next.