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Google Whistle-Blower Says Speaking Out Is Harder Than It Seems

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(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. whistle-blower Frances Haugen has received plaudits from Congress and appeared prepared and confident in interviews and testimony. But her experience is far from typical for employees seeking to hold Big Tech accountable. Just ask Chelsey Glasson, who sued Google for discrimination.

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Whistle-blowers need better protection and resources, says the former senior researcher and manager. She will address the Alphabet Workers Union later Thursday to discuss issues whistle-blowers face and the toll her own case has taken on her. Whistle-blowers may seem to be having a moment right now, but Glasson will discuss how many of them suffer in silence, afraid to risk retaliation or lose their immigration status or healthcare, while others raise issues but their stories don’t break through, according to a transcript of her planned remarks.

“Whistle-blowers deserve better,” Glasson is expected to say. “We need legal support, including assistance in finding the right legal representation and stronger protections under the law.” The group also needs resources and funding for mental-health support and assistance with everyday expenses as people who speak out are often recovering from workplace trauma and have been fired from their positions for being vocal.

More employees are stepping forward at companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Pinterest Inc. and of course Facebook, where Haugen was a former product manager. She has filed complaints against the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that Facebook and its executives misled investors. At Google, employees who have protested the company’s work for the U.S. government have been fired, a move that federal authorities said violated the National Labor Relations Act. Google also dismissed the two co-heads of its ethical AI research group, Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru, after the two were among the authors of a paper critical of the company.

Google has said it investigates all discrimination claims rigorously and that Gebru resigned, while Mitchell violated its code of conduct and security policies.

Glasson was a manager at Google when she said she saw one of her direct reports face pregnancy discrimination from Glasson’s boss. She reported the issues and then faced similar conditions when she became pregnant with her second child, she said. After trying to combat the discrimination through an internal complaint to human resources and filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Glasson said she realized she needed to file a lawsuit for any action to be taken — Google found no wrongdoing in her case and the EEOC is understaffed, she said. While Glasson found lawyers to take her case on a contingency basis she still has to cover various costs associated with the process.

To date she has spent $56,000 and she expects costs to top $100,000 of her own money by the end of the trial, which is set to start in two months.

What’s harder to measure, she said, is the impact on her mental health. Glasson said her experience at Google left her with insomnia, panic attacks and heart palpitations. Last winter she said she opted to enter an inpatient mental health facility for a month-long program to develop coping strategies.

“The past three years of my life that I’ve spent fighting Google have taken a greater toll on me and my family than I could have ever imagined,” Glasson will tell the union workers according to a transcript of her planned remarks.

“I’m not telling you this so you’ll feel sorry for me. I’m telling you because things need to change.”

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