To Google, Pregnancy is Evil

Google’s motto is “Do no Evil”. We have to assume the company includes getting pregnant as an act of evil, according to a recently filed job discrimination lawsuit.

ZDNet writes:

Christina Elwell, who was promoted to national sales director in late 2003, alleges her supervisor began discriminating against her in May 2004, a month after informing him of her pregnancy and the medical complications she was encountering, according to the lawsuit filed July 17 in a U.S. District Court in New York.

Elwell informed her boss in April of 2004 about being pregnant with quadruplets, and that she wouldn’t be able to travel for some weeks because of complications. Her boss, Timothy Armstrong, showed her a chart of the organization with her name removed in May, saying that she was being removed from the position because she couldn’t travel. He offered another position in operations, which she considered a demotion. She countered with a request for the East Coast sales director position, which meant she could continue in her field of interest, sales, and be able to travel for her job, because she could take trains or drive.

According to, Armstrong initially agreed, and then reneged on the deal, appointing someone who Elwell had originally hired, and who did not have her experience:

A conciliatory Elwell offered to self-demote herself to Director of East Coast sales allowing her to travel by train and car. Agreeing and then soon after reneging, Armstrong promoted to that position a man Elwell herself had hired and deemed less qualified with no Internet sales experience.

After calling Elwell “an HR nightmare” in June, Armstrong expressed that he no longer wanted her at the New York office. The next day he fired her over the telephone claiming he had a “gut feeling” it was “the right thing to do.”

A few weeks later, Google’s human resources department informed Elwell she had been fired improperly. Just days after that, Elwell lost the third of her unborn quadruplets.

What’s even more interesting is some of the reaction to the story, such as this from a commenter at ZDNet:

This is why women cannot gain traction toward equality in the workplace.

I wonder if people would say the same about a man who can’t travel because he just had bypass surgery? After all, if men didn’t eat so many Biggie Burgers at Burger King, exercise too little, get too stressed and drink too much, they wouldn’t need to have bypass surgery.

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27 Responses to To Google, Pregnancy is Evil

  1. Gee. So much for that silly old ‘presumption of innocence’ nonsense.

    We have to assume the company includes getting pregnant as an act of evil, according to a recently filed job discrimination lawsuit.

    This is just a little over the top, isn’t it, considering that no company can control all the actions of all its employees? And that the HR department seems to have admitted that this guy acted improperly?

  2. Shelley says:

    According to this blog entry what Google was really trying to do was help this poor woman — giving her a job that required much less work so that she could recover emotionally and physically.

    Sorry, doesn’t fly.

    This is a woman successful enough so to be given an important strategic position such as national sales director. To someone like her, watching her career go up in flames would be far more stressful and harmful to her health, than doing her job.

    As for Google, was Armstrong demoted? Is he still in a position to hire and fire people?

  3. Christian Romney says:

    Shocking from a modern company like Google, but sadly all too common. One of the best courses I took in college was Diversity in the Workplace. Looks like Google needs to have some serious managerial training reform.

    John, it’s not over the top. A company can do a hell of a lot to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen: it’s called training. The HR admission is the very least that Google could do after the fact. It’s their responsibility to educate and train associates, especially managers, on harassment and discrimination issues. You may be surprised to know that Armstrong can also be held personally liable.

  4. Scott Reynen says:

    It’s nice to see some attention given to a large company’s actual flaws, rather than the hypothetical flaws that seem to be the subject of so much discussion (“But what if Google does X?!?!”).

    I think that quote from ZDNet lacks enough context to tell what was meant. “This” could just as easily be the discrimation or the pregnancy. You seem to be assuming it’s the pregnancy, but it seems unclear to me.

  5. Elaine says:

    all I have for this is a very long and heavy sigh.

    but then again, I’m having one of those “what was the point of all this again?” days.

  6. Jim says:

    Armstrong sounds like a jerk, and based on the news reports I hope Elwell wins her case. She has been though horrible circumstances, and I wish her best of luck resolving her issues with Google.

    I disagree with your analogy though. Heart bypass surgery happens to both men and women. You should not be so bitter.

  7. Shelley says:

    Why did you use the term ‘bitter’, Jim? A higher percentage of men than women have bypass surgery. My statement is based on statistical fact.

    I can see a person disagreeing with my analogy, or my statement about Google and pregnancy, but why use a term like ‘bitter’ to describe my views?

    It’s interesting — this is the sixth time this week someone has described my writings related to gender and technology as ‘bitter’. I guess this is an improvement over ‘hysterical’.

  8. Jim says:

    It is just the vibe I get from your writings lately. I’m not sure why, and it definitely has nothing to do with your gender if that’s what you’re thinking. I often get the same feelings reading Norman Walsh lately, so you are in good company. It is understandable – I used to be bitter about lots of things. Now I accept them and try to focus on resolving my issues.

    As for bypass surgery, it isn’t intrinsically a male-centric operation. A better comparison would be among woman and men from comparable background who both received bypass surgery or received leave for pregnancy. The gender biases noted in that article are unfortunate and should be followed up, though.

  9. Of course, I read your headline to imply that googling about pregnancy while on the job was evil.


  10. Shelley says:

    Ooops! Added a little overdue punctuation.

  11. Lauren says:

    Bitter, hysterical, it essentially means the same thing.

  12. I guess my point (way up top there) is that the actions of one person in a company, however reprehensible (a very nice civilized word for b-a-d) do not make a company evil.

    In other words the title “To Google, Pregnancy is Evil” is a massive over-reaction to one supervisor’s alleged idiocy and nastiness.

  13. Yule Heibel says:

    But google deliberately invites “over-reaction” by being first with the ridiculous “do no evil” motto, John. If it’s ok to have a stupid marketing jingle or copy-line be “acceptable” (I mean: consider, please, the use of a word like evil! What?, google thinks it’s a deity or something?), if we’re supposed to be ok with that commercially catchy motto, then they have to be ok with taking it on the chin when they clearly do “evil.” And don’t excuse them with the “it was one lone individual” excuse — that’s so lame. Corporations really have us brainwashed, don’t they? When they “do no evil,” we’re supposed to admire the corporation (not the individual), but when they clearly “do evil,” we’re supposed to excuse them and blame the individual? C’mon. Shelley’s post’s title and the assertion are completely in line with the terms that google itself set out in the first place.

    I wish I could still find the reference to a newspaper article in which the French government was boasting that it had the sexiest women and most maternal mothers (more kids per capita than other European countries) and most capable female workforce in all of Europe. France has the 35 hour work week, which allows women to place limits on demands to be on call 24/7; it has state-subsidised childcare, which allows women to have children and to work; and — the other implication — by not stressing everyone to the hilt, it allows sexuality to flourish, including choosing to have children. The article was kinda smarmy, but it had a point: that France was making it possible for women to be sexual beings (including being reproductive), while also having careers.

    No one bats an eyelash when an 80-year old man fathers another child (as Star-Trek-”Scotty” did 5 years ago before dying the other week at age 85), to have serial marriages with ever-younger women and create serial families with same, and we somehow think it’s ok for men to be sexual beings and be successful in business, etc. But we’re loaded with all kinds of baggage-crap when it comes to women and sexuality. In public life, a pregnant woman is a mess, not an asset. And my god, this one was carrying quadruplets! Either she’s a really dangerous sexual super-breeder, or she had fertility treatments because …she put off having babies when she was younger …because she was too busy climbing the career ladder …because this society makes having a career while simultaneously being a female sexual being as difficult as possible.

    Having babies is a sexual act. It is one expression of female sexuality. It’s not the end-point of female sexuality or the only expression thereof, and you certainly don’t have to have a baby to be a sexually expressive female, but bearing and birthing and mothering a child is a sexual expression nonetheless. And the way we seem incapable of reconciling motherhood with productive work outside of self-sacrifice, as well as how we tend to turn mothers into eunuchs by taking away their right to be productive in the public sphere as well as by denying their sexuality by degrading them as “mommies” or “soccer moms” or “fat cows” or whatever, just makes me think that this is still an incredibly sexist, masculinist society that’s basically afraid of women and their sexual power. We don’t admire women who breed, but we admire the old guy who gets himself a young wife and still gets it up to get her pregnant.

    As for that old canard “bitter”: why are people so afraid of critique? And why are they so afraid or turned off by the critique delivered by a woman who has reached a certain point in her own sexual development, a point where she really sees that there is nothing to be gained by always “making nice”? I have such a strong sense of myself as a sexual being and I am so secure in my relationship that I really don’t care to “make nice” about some things anymore. When I was younger, I might have felt too weak to be this “bitchy” (…nah, on second thought, I didn’t), but I definitely know at this point that I have nothing to lose by speaking my mind, and nothing to gain by shutting up. That’s not bitterness, for crying out loud. That’s leadership. Read my lips: leadership, the thing we women aren’t supposed to wield. (And oh, how I wish I could confront some of the male a*hholes I encountered in my twenties & thirties who were supposed to be leaders… Man, I’d tell them a thing or two.) And what is one of the sources I go to to get the power for being a leader? My kids. And where did I get them? From sex. At some point a woman reaches a point where she just knows that leadership and female sexuality are not antithetical, no matter how much the men are shaking in their boots as they hold their hands protectively over their balls. And guess what? You have nothing to protect, because we’re not out to castrate you. Ask our sons. Most of them are out there doing it, but we’re also trying to make sure our daughters get that chance, too.

    Sorry about the rant in your comments board, Shelley, but geez, one more word about “bitter” and I’ll fcuking explode.

  14. Jim says:

    Yule, it was an observation that Shelly seemed bitter. It had nothing to do with her being a woman and definitely nothing to do with sex, Dr. Freud. Did you read my second reply?

    Bitterness is not being “bitchy,” and neither are they both the same as “leadership.” Leadership is usually something others call you – not you about yourself. Otherwise you just seem egotistical.

    I wish I kept my mouth shut. I am a little offended by you by calling my statement sexist. It was not intended in that manner, and nor do I see how it can be constructed as such.

  15. dave rogers says:

    But Jim, it wasn’t an “observation,” it was a put-down. Your actual words were “You should not be so bitter.” No “seem” in there. No “observation.” Just a drive-by admonition by a man that devalued the post as the mere ranting of a bitter woman. It’s hard to discern any other more charitable intention.

    As to not being able to see how it can be constructed as such, it seems to me that you’re being obtuse or willfully blind.

    I “observe” that you should not be offended.

  16. Jim says:

    Dave don’t be silly. It is not devaluing to be bitter. I followed up with:

    I often get the same feelings reading Norman Walsh lately, so you are in good company. It is understandable – I used to be bitter about lots of things.

    So I Norman Walsh and devalue myself too? Of course not! I also started the conservation by saying I agreed as well with the premise of the post. (I do agree with most of it.) The bitterness was in a different paragraph, because it was about a different thing. In any case, it is not a put down of Shelly.

    Seriously, you are taking way things out of context, and that is bad bad bad. Even the worst insults can mean nothing without context. Perhaps I am being obtuse, but I don’t think Shelly was offended either based on her follow up. I certainly hope she understood the context of my statement at least. Please explain.

    I believe bitterness is a feeling, and feelings are not devaluing. They should be recongized and delt with. Saying you shouldn’t feel so bitter is in the same league as saying you shouldn’t feel so sad, lonely, or even happy (if you is doing it too much). Your thoughts influence your feelings, so by recongizing your mood you can change the way you thing and start to feel better. It took me some trials to learn that. Most people here seem older than me, so why don’t you already know this?

    Finally, I explicitly said it had nothing to do with Shelly’s gender. Doesn’t none of that mean anything?

  17. Shelley says:

    Yule, you can rant like that all you want. Your comment was outstanding. More it helped me better understand those times in the past when I have ‘pulled back’ from a confrontation, and why I did — and I won’t now. You are an amazingly eloquent writer. I am breaking my vow not to pull comments out of context and putting it into a new post I’m writing (as I’m also pulling one from Dave in another post into a second writing I’m doing for this weekend — you both have inspired me).

    Jim, what I have said, and what Lauren concurred with, and what Yule and Dave have said even more explicity (and much more clearly), is that you added an emotional context to my writing that wasn’t there. More, it is an emotional element that doesn’t exist — but one that is added, all too commonly, to women’s writing.

    If you had said I was being snarky, I would have laughed and agreed. Edgy, sarcastic, even angry — yup, all of the above. But you said ‘bitter’, which is a feeling typically associated with hopelessness and typically associated with a person’s feelings of inadequacy to deal with a particular situation, and that’s not what this was.

    I also read Norm Walsh — I have a massive amount of respect for him. I remember him writing the post on sounding ‘bitter’, and I think he even used that word. But he did so in the proper context; it was very personal for him. Norm was making a statement about his subjective feelings; I was making a statement about technology and women, and the breathless discrimination that exists in the West Coast tech companies.

    Am I bitter? No, because bitterness implies that I feel there is nothing I cannot do about this situation, and there is: I can write these posts and essays and make people aware, and even uncomfortable, with the blatant hypocrisy of ‘mouthed equality’ on one hand, and actual events on the other.

    Terms like ‘bitter’, ‘hypocrisy’, ‘shrill’,'whine’, are inevitably associated with writing that women do when we push back at the status quo. More, by focusing on the emotion, it was hand waving — distracting from the message.

    Notice how John disagreed with my associating this action with the company, and Scott questioned whether my interpretation is correct (based on known evidence)? Both focused on my writing and my interpretation, without adding an emotional context (and Damn, Yule, your response to John on this was incredible). The writing then became a point of debate. Rightfully so.

    Focusing on establishing an emotional context when the post was not about emotion, undermines the author, and detracts from the message.

  18. dave rogers says:

    “I believe bitterness is a feeling, and feelings are not devaluing. They should be recongized and delt with. Saying you shouldn’t feel so bitter is in the same league as saying you shouldn’t feel so sad, lonely, or even happy (if you is doing it too much). Your thoughts influence your feelings, so by recongizing your mood you can change the way you thing and start to feel better. It took me some trials to learn that. Most people here seem older than me, so why don’t you already know this?”

    I don’t know how old you are, Jim, but you don’t know what I know. (This is about to segue into a scene from Mystery Men…)

    Here’s something I learned rather late in my, apparently long, life… Telling anyone they “shouldn’t” feel the way that they feel is the most overt way of devaluing their feelings and the person feeling them.

    Here’s something else I learned that seems somewhat apparent to you now that the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak: It’s difficult to “know” what another person is feeling from their writing alone. To you, Shelley sounded “bitter.” “Bitter” is an emotion that is ascribed to both genders, but I think it’s most often one that is ascribed to women. I could be wrong about that, I know that when I’m speaking or writing mindfully I’m very cautious about using the word “bitter” with respect to women.

    Even if Shelley were “bitter,” would it be appropriate for you to tell her she shouldn’t feel that way? Aren’t her feelings her own? Or should she be obliged to listen to you? On what basis? What have you done to understand Shelley’s feelings? Do you make it a habit to go around telling people how they should feel? Where did you get that authority from? These are just questions, they’re not attacks. Granted, they ought to be obvious questions, but it isn’t clear you’ve thought very much about the answers.

    I don’t dispute that nothing you wrote “explicitly” had anything to do with Shelley’s gender, but “implicitly,” and (this seems to bother some people a great deal) unconsciously, it had a great deal to do with your respective genders.

  19. Jim says:

    Shelly: I’m sorry for hurting your feelings. I feel very misunderstood here. My definition of bitterness doesn’t associate with whining or being a shrill. (Honestly I never use that last term – nor do I think it accurately describes anyone either.) Nor do I personally see all arguments by women as it.

    When I’m bitter, I focus too much on snarkiness or sarcasm for a while when the issue itself is important to me. It gets in the way of thinking clearly and I try to advoid it. So from my point-of-view you seemed bitter and that’s why I suggested you not be that way. It wasn’t intended to dismiss you or your argument; if it was I wouldn’t have addressed the comment to you!

    So I felt, based on your previous posts and that one silly paragraph in the parent, that you were bitter. I was wrong, and I apologise for that. I agreed with your premise and definitely didn’t intend to make you feel devalued, if you did.

    Dave: Do you think what I think what you think what I think what, um, where where we? ;-)

    What is and isn’t appropriate is irrelevent in this situation. One should be free to discuss all points of view. This is a discussion, after all, not a court!

    As for devaluing people… I don’t place value on someone based on their mood. I myself encourage feedback on how I’m acting. I don’t take it personally; I understand they could be wrong, and I may be wrong too. Feedback helps me understand myself from another point of view.

    So from your viewpoint I guess I was out-of-line. I apologise for that, and I hope you can forgive me since, from my viewpoint, I was trying to be helpful.

    Again, everyone, I’m sorry.

  20. SB says:

    Y’know, during one period of my professional life, I actually trained people how to apologize without really doing it: I’m so sorry you misunderstood me!

    I apologize for that.

  21. Shelley says:

    Actually, I’m neither here nor there on what you wrote Jim. I’m a huge respector in people writing what they want, as long as we can respond.

    But I think you hurt Dave’s feelings.

    SB, I’ll remember that one. I wonder if I could use it in a comment thread and if people would see beyond the “I apologize…”

  22. Yule Heibel says:

    I want to follow up with an assurance to any woman who dislikes children intensely, who is celibate by choice, who is lesbian or bisexual, or who has made any one of the myriad other choices available to free women in enlightened societies that I do not mean to give the impression that having babies is the expression of female sexuality. My point was that it is one, but that like almost all expressions of female sexuality, we tend to turn it into something else, something that serves a larger productivity. The latter, in turn, is organised around economic terms, and those are determined by men. Attempts to repress sexuality that “deviates” from productive norms (and note how seamlessly having babies is co-opted into productivity: it’s the visible expression of sex that produces something [another person], and, within the legal confines of marriage, men can be “assured” [as far as is possible without genetic testing] that the offspring are “theirs”) come under fire today on all fronts, but sexuality that “deviates” also gets co-opted back into purposeful, productive activity — like selling stuff, for example, or keeping large segments of the population in a state of arousal so they’ll want to buy stuff. (Unwed teenage welfare mothers are the exception: no one seems to have yet figured out how to co-opt them into greasing the wheels of commerce & production. …Well, I guess one could argue that the Nazis had a plan to make young unwed pregnant women “useful” with their perverted Lebensborn program, but that was so twentieth-century…) White heterosexuals (m+f) have (one could almost say “traditionally”) been afraid of homosexuals, of African sexuality, of lower-class sexuality — of basically any kind of sexuality that wasn’t “theirs,” including freely expressed female sexuality (in all its colours: GLBT, etc.) — yet we’ve also seen an explosion of alternative behaviours and supposedly free female sexuality, which every single time is used to sell stuff back to us, which in turn is an amplification and strengthening of the market and forces of production. Which are still determined by the norms set by white men. This is how I see sexuality and economy as linked.

    Re the various “isms”: It takes a lot to try to jump even one millimetre past the assumptions that “naturally” determine one’s environment “without saying.” For what it’s worth, I don’t think anyone is immune to sexism (and in that sense, when I characterised the “sound bitter” remark as sexist, it wasn’t a personal criticism). Or that anyone is immune to racism, classism, age-ism, and so on. And I’m not trying to be super politically correct or anything: I’m sexist in certain situations, as well as racist, classist, etc. I grew up in a world permeated by these discourses, how could I not have internalised some aspects of them? But I try to “problematise” these prejudices, make myself aware of them, and in that way try to move just a little bit further into a space where I can have some insight and maybe even (on a good day) some compassion. (…On a really good day, some compassion for myself, even!) It’s a good idea to keep talking; since there’s no perfect alternative system or anything, keeping the conversation going is essential. Jim is doing that — good for him.

    Oops, cross-posted with Shelley’s comment. Let me add then: Dave is keeping the conversation going, too, with Jim, and with us.

  23. Jim says:

    Arg, I can’t even apologize right. I was sincere in my apologies and I didn’t know about that training. I feel really bad about everything, so I’ll try again. I’m so sorry for turning this thread into a mess!

    Dave, I apologize for hurting your feeling. I’m too insensitive sometimes. Shelly, I truly am sorry for my remarks; I won’t make them again. They were too egotistical. Yule, thanks for understanding and I’m sorry if you’re offended by anything.

  24. dave rogers says:

    Shelley, was there supposed to be a smiley there somewhere? ;^)

    My feelings weren’t hurt! As should be obvious by now, I seldom overlook an opportunity to behave like a hectoring pedant, saving humanity from all manner of ills, real and imagined.

    Er, I mean…


  25. Shelley says:

    Dave, I seldom use smileys. I really prefer to leave people discomfited, and in a state of confusion.

  26. Jim Dermitt says:

    It’s a huge corporation now. It is no longer this little academic dream. I think that people who work for a large corporation get screwed all of the time. Just take a look at manufacturing and heavy industry. Look at the screwing the airlines have done to workers. All of that do no evil stuff is just crap. Comment spam is evil. Not to the degree of some things, but it is really driven by greed and stupidity, two things corporations are famous for. Even Google has its toxic waste dump. See

    What the Internet is turning into is this giant word brokering scheme in which every moron out there is trying to corner the market on a word or combination of words to sell something with no inventory. Here’s a popular word set Quick and Easy Cash Payments.

    A person trying to make an honest living is getting screwed and the moron buying ads for quick buck schemes is treated like a king or queen.
    Having children is evil and abortion is good in this loony corporate madness. Maybe she would of got a promotion by aborting her pregnancy and a bonus check on top of it.

  27. Phil says:

    during one period of my professional life, I actually trained people how to apologize without really doing it: I’m so sorry you misunderstood me!

    Did you ever meet my Dad?

    (Me: “Dad, I’m sorry.”
    Him [smiling benevolently]: “Yes. And I’m sorry you got so upset.”)