CHICAGO (CBS/CNN) — Hundreds of Google employees in Chicago walked out of their Fulton Market District office building on Thursday, as part of a global protest of the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases.
The Google staffers walked out of the Chicago headquarters at 320 N. Morgan St. shortly after 11 a.m., and held a rally outside, accusing the company of mishandling sexual misconduct complaints against its executives.
“It’s important for us to fight for these issues, at work and everywhere,” one male employee said. “This is about fighting abuse and harassment for women and people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, ages, nationalities, abilities, and job titles.”
The employees shared stories of unwanted advances from managers, being kissed without consent, and other examples of sexual harassment and misconduct. They also said the company’s internal investigations process is often too stressful for people who file complaints, and makes them feel like they are being interrogated.
“I’m terrified to be standing here, but I really wanted to say something,” said one woman who said she was sexually harassed at Google in 2013. “My experience reporting it was almost as bad as what I went through.”
The demonstrations, dubbed “Google Walkout,” follow an outcry over a New York Times investigation that detailed years of sexual harassment allegations, multimillion-dollar severance packages for accused executives, and a lack of transparency over the cases.
“When there’s an injustice anywhere, for anyone, and any Googler, it’s so important for us to speak up, even when it seems risky, or when it seems like it might not come across well. Doing the right thing has always been part of our culture, and this is one of those times that we have to do the right thing, and step up for these demands,” one protest organizer in Chicago said.
Before Google employees got to work in the United States, around 150 Google employees in India participated in the walkouts, a company spokesman in the country told CNN. Google (GOOGL) has about 2,000 staff members across Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Demonstrations were also reported at the company’s Singapore and Tokyo offices.
In Europe, CNN witnessed a small group of Google employees walk out at the company’s London headquarters. A larger protest was reported in Zurich, Switzerland.
Google staffers around the world walked out of their offices at 11:10 a.m. local time. According to social media posts, they want changes at the company that include an end to the use of forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination.
“We’re walking out in support of those who’ve been harassed anywhere in the workplace, and to ensure that perpetrators are not rewarded and are not protected,” Sam Dutton, a developer advocate at Google, told CNN in London.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has voiced his support for the walkouts.
“We let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned for Thursday and that employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate,” Pichai said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward,” he said. “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”
A Twitter account named @googlewalkout posted photos of people at what it said were protests at Google’s Singapore, Tokyo, Berlin and Zurich offices.
A Google spokesman in Singapore said he couldn’t provide details on how many people took part in the walkouts at offices in that city or Tokyo, which each have more than 1,000 employees.
Organizers of the walkouts said they expected more than 1,500 people — mostly women — to take part across nearly two dozen Google offices around the world, according to a New York Times report Wednesday.
CNN wasn’t immediately able to reach the organizers directly for comment.
In the United States, there are hundreds of posts on social media using the hashtag #googlewalkout.
Google’s management has been struggling to deal with the backlash from The New York Times investigation.
Top executives stressed to employees that the company is “dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace” in an email sent shortly after the Times investigation was published last week.
According to the report, the company stayed silent about sexual misconduct allegations against three executives over the past decade, including Android creator Andy Rubin, who left the company in 2014. Tech news site The Information previously reported that Google had investigated Rubin for an inappropriate relationship while at the company.
But the Times uncovered new details, including a reported $90 million exit package that Rubin is said to have been granted when he departed the company. The Times reported that Rubin was accused of coercing a female employee, with whom he’d been having affair, into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013. A Google investigation found her claim to be credible and then-CEO Larry Page asked Rubin to resign, according to the Times.
Sam Singer, a lawyer for Rubin, disputed the allegations in the Times report.
“None of the allegations made about Mr. Rubin are true,” he told CNN Business in a statement, calling them “demonstrably false.”
Earlier this week, Richard DeVaul, a director of Google X, resigned from his position. The Times report claimed he had sexually harassed a job applicant. DeVaul is leaving without any exit package, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In a statement to the Times, DeVaul said he was sorry for the “error of judgement.” CNN wasn’t able to reach him for comment.
<em>(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The CNN Wire contributed to this report.)</em>