Shareholders sue Google for hushing up alleged misconduct

Investors claim the board failed in its duties by allowing harassment to occur, approving big payouts and keeping details private

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, a man using a mobile phone walks past Google offices in New York, USA.  The European Court of Justice’s advocate general released a preliminary opinion Thursday Jan 10, 2019, saying Google does not have to extend “right to be forgotten” rules to its search engines globally, in the case involving the U.S. tech giant and France’s data privacy regulator. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, FILE)
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Alphabet’s directors were sued by shareholders for approving a $90 million exit payment to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android mobile software while helping cover up his alleged misconduct and similar misbehavior by other executives.

The investors claimed the board failed in its duties by allowing harassment to occur, approving big payouts and keeping the details private. The complaint targeted the company’s top executives and committee members, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, venture capitalist John Doerr, investor Ram Shriram and Alphabet chief legal officer David Drummond, among others.

“Rubin was allowed to quietly resign by defendants Larry Page and Sergey Brin after an internal investigation found the allegations of sexual harassment by Rubin to be credible,” according to one complaint filed Thursday in California state court. “While at Google, Rubin is also alleged to have engaged in human sex trafficking -- paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to women to be, in Rubin’s own words, ‘owned’ by him.”

Another suit, filed on behalf of the Northern California Pipe Trades Pension Plan and Teamsters Local 272 Labor Management Pension Fund, made similar claims.

Mr Rubin created Android, now the world's most popular operating system, and ran the powerful mobile division at Google for years before leaving the company in 2014. In October, The New York Times reported that Google executives approved a four-year, $90m pay package for Mr Rubin after an employee accused the executive of sexual harassment.

The findings about Mr Rubin reverberated inside the technology giant. In November, thousands of Google employees staged a work walkout to protest the company’s approach to workplace sexual misconduct, prompting management to change some of its policies.

The shareholder suits are the first critiques aimed directly at the Alphabet board. The New York Times reported that members of Google's board approved Mr Rubin's stock grant in 2014 after an inquiry into the allegations against him began.

A group of Google employees behind the walkout released a statement on Thursday saying they support the shareholder lawsuits. "We have all the evidence we need that Google’s leadership does not have our best interests at heart," they said.

Google was also accused of handling the resignation of executive Amit Singhal in a similar fashion, allowing him to “quietly resign” in 2016 amid sexual harassment claims. Google never disclosed the reason for his departure, though he was also paid millions in severance, according to the complaint filed on behalf of Alphabet shareholder James Martin.

Mr Singhal was fired from Uber Technologies in 2017 for failing to disclose the allegations he faced at the Mountain View, California-based company, where he was the longtime head of the powerful search division.


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The board’s audit and compensation committees, comprising nine members, along with Mr Page, Mr Brin and Mr Schmidt, reviewed the findings of an investigation into allegations against Mr Rubin in 2014. All nine directors were informed that "the allegations were credible," according to the complaint.

“The conduct of Rubin and other executives was disgusting, illegal, immoral, degrading to women, and contrary to every principle that Google claims it abides by," the shareholder said in the complaint.

Mr Singhal didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“This lawsuit, like much of the recent media coverage, mischaracterizes Andy’s departure from Google and sensationalizes claims made about Andy by his ex-wife," Ellen Winick Stross, a lawyer for Mr Rubin, said in a statement sent late on Thursday. “Andy left Google voluntarily. Andy denies any misconduct, and we will vigorously defend him against these baseless claims.’’

Google told staff in October that it dismissed 48 people for sexual harassment in the past two years without exit packages.

Representatives of Google and John Doerr declined to comment. John Hennessy, the board chairman, and board members Ann Mather, Roger Ferguson and Diane Greene didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Martin lawsuit was filed Louise Renne, a one-time San Francisco City Attorney and former member of the city and county’s Board of Supervisors who’s now in private practice. Her co-counsel, Ann Ravel, was a commissioner for the Federal Election Commission under the Obama administration.

The complaint is a derivative case filed on behalf of the company against its board of directors, which means any damages recovered by the plaintiff would go back to Google. The goal of the suit is to improve corporate governance, according to Renne.

The case is Martin v. Page, 19-cv-00164, California Superior Court, San Mateo County (Redwood City).