When Chelsey Glasson found out she was pregnant with her second child in 2019, she did not anticipate the first three years of her new baby’s life would be overshadowed by an epic legal battle against a trillion-dollar company.
The 38-year-old sued Google, her former employer, en 2020 alleging she had been discriminated against while pregnant and witnessed others being treated similarly, and faced retaliation from her manager when she spoke up about it.
Desde entonces, Glasson says, battling to win her case has become a nearly full-time job, one that’s pitted her against a company with a global army of lawyers at the ready. Despite being represented by attorneys in Washington and partially backed by a not-for-profit group, the American Association of University Women, she finds herself putting in grueling hours preparing for her upcoming trial this year. She spends her nights, after her two kids are asleep, discovering documents and preparing for processes such as her recent deposition in March. The fight has impacted her children’s lives almost as much as her own, ella dice.
“Even if they don’t know what is going on exactly, they know mommy is not all-there – they know that I am not always present for them,” she said of her children, who are two and four years old. “It is heartbreaking to see how this impacts not just the person who is targeted by pregnancy discrimination, but the entire family.”
Glasson’s case first gained publicity after she published a widely-shared internal note, titled I’m Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why, which was eventually leaked to the public.
After Chelsey hired an attorney and, in response, Google investigated a small portion of her claims, but said it found no examples of policy violation. Glasson then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) en septiembre 2019. After little movement on an EEOC investigation, she filed a lawsuit in July 2020. While many companies quickly move to resolve lawsuits, Google continues to aggressively deny Chelsey’s claims.
Glasson says her situation underscores just how much a worker stands to lose when they go toe-to-toe with one of the world’s largest tech companies.
“What’s very clear is that Google does not take action regarding discrimination,” said Glasson. “This is in large part because it is a massive organization with huge resources at its disposal to fight someone like me – it’s not at all a fair fight.”
Glasson’s struggle began in early 2018, after she says she overheard a director at Google criticizing a pregnant employee, and learned that the employee was being given negative feedback in her performance review after disclosing the pregnancy.
In keeping with Google’s reporting guidelines, Glasson filed a complaint with human resources alleging pregnancy discrimination against her colleague. Shortly after, ella dice, the director began to retaliate against her over the report, interviewing other people to replace Glasson in her role. Glasson said HR acknowledged the retaliation but refused to stop it. She asked at the company how to face her boss when the ongoing investigation was making their relationship tense and was told multiple times to find a therapist.
“When you are a victim and you are told to go to counseling, it is incredibly offensive – it’s sending a message that you’re crazy and you’re making all this up," ella dijo.
Several months later, Glasson then became pregnant herself and says she decided to transfer teams to escape the ongoing retaliation and harassment. But she found her new superior made negative comments about her pregnancy-related health issues, and denied her the management role she was hired into.
Glasson says that five months before her maternity leave was scheduled, her new boss told her that she would not be given any management responsibilities while she was pregnant because of concerns that her upcoming maternity leave would “stress the team” and “rock the boat”.
“Pregnancy discrimination does not get more blatant than that, and yet here they were telling me it is not happening," ella dijo.
Glasson also says her doctor eventually ordered her to take bed rest but that her manager encouraged her to keep working. During the investigation and ongoing fallout with her manager, Glasson was prescribed Lexapro, an antidepressant, to manage stress and was diagnosed by her obstetrician with “acute stress”.
En 7 enero 2019 Glasson had to go to the hospital for a life-threatening pregnancy-related medical issue, which she believes was brought on by stress, and remained there until she gave birth to her daughter on 8 marzo 2019 . Days later, Google asked her to leave the company in exchange for three months of her base salary.
“It was a very small amount,” she said of the payout. “Especially to be asked to leave the company with no health insurance, as I came out of the hospital with a newborn in hand, having come out of months in the hospital and healing from an emergency c-section.”
En agosto 2019, Glasson recieved a one-paragraph email in response to her complaint, filed more than a year prior, saying that it had not found evidence of pregnancy discrimination. “Thank you for raising your concerns,” the email said. This response prompted her to file the lawsuit.
In response to a request for comment about Glasson’s claims, Google said it does not comment on ongoing cases but that it takes these allegations seriously.
“Reporting misconduct takes courage and we want to provide care and support to people who raise concerns,” a Google spokesperson said. “All instances of inappropriate conduct reported to us are investigated rigorously, and we have simplified how employees can raise concerns and provided more transparency into the investigations process at Google. We work to be extremely transparent about how we handle complaints and the action we take.”
Veena Dubal, a labor law professor at UC Hastings who teaches a course in pregnancy discrimination, said it is exceedingly rare for a company like Google to take an employee to court over an issue like this. “It almost seems they are trying to make an example over her," ella dijo, before highlighting that men accused of wrongdoing at Google have received much better treatment than Glasson.
“When you look at the way men accused of sexual harassment were treated versus the way a woman alleging pregnancy discrimination was treated, it is such a despicable example of the role of misogyny and patriarchy in these tech companies.”
In the time since Glasson first filed her complaint, the attention paid to poor labor conditions in the tech industry – from white collar developer jobs, to gig economy temps, and warehouse workers – has only grown.
In early April 2021, the National Labor Relations Board found that two Amazon employees were unfairly fired in retaliation for internally criticizing discriminatory practices.
En diciembre 2020, Pinterest reached a $22m settlement with a female former executive over pay discrimination. Prior to that, two former employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, came forward with allegations that they were retaliated against for advocating for fair pay.
Google, Entretanto, has continued to face claims of discrimination and retaliation.
Even in the midst of her own case, Glasson participated in global walkouts over Google’s handling of sexual misconduct and other equity issues in the workplace. En diciembre 2020, más que 1,200 Google employees signed a letter condemning the company for allegedly firing an ethics researcher in retaliation for her criticism of Google’s diversity programs.
“I couldn’t help but wonder at the time, ‘It’s easy to show up for something like this, but what would my coworkers actually do if they learned of what was happening to me?'" ella dijo. “As I later learned, most would do little to nothing.”
Todavía, Glasson said countless Googlers have reached out to her in the years since her case was first publicized in the online memo. The case is now scheduled to go to court in December.
“A lot of them tell me ‘I wish I had the courage to fight like you’," ella dijo. “It is heartbreaking, because they often have a lot of shame, and there is nothing to be ashamed about. It is such a difficult path to take, to fight this, and it is not right for every individual.”
“It really takes a huge toll," ella añadió. “I would not wish this on anyone.”