Whistleblower says DeepMind waited months to fire researcher accused of sexual misconduct

A former employee of DeepMind, the Google-owned artificial intelligence research lab, accuses the company’s human resources department of intentionally delaying a response to her complaints of sexual misconduct in the workplace, such as the first reported the FinancialTimes.

In an open letter posted on Medium, the former employee (who goes by the name Julia to protect her identity) says she was sexually harassed by a senior researcher for months while working at the London-based company. . During this period, she was allegedly the subject of numerous sexual propositions and inappropriate messages, some of which described past sexual violence against women and threats of self-harm.

Julia contacted the company’s human resources and grievance team as early as August 2019 to describe her interactions with the lead researcher, and she filed a formal complaint in December 2019. The researcher in question was allegedly terminated until October 2020. He faced no suspensions and even received a company award while HR handled Julia’s complaint, leaving Julia fearful for her safety — and that of her other female colleagues.

Although the FinancialTimesThe report says her case was not fully resolved until seven months after she first reported the misconduct, Julia said. The edge that the whole process actually took 10 months. She claims DeepMind’s communications team used ‘semantics’ to ‘push off’ the FinancialTimes‘ story and shorten the time it took to process his case.

“It was actually 10 months, they [DeepMind] argued that it was ‘only’ 7 because that’s when the appeal ended, although the disciplinary hearing lasted another 2 months and involved more interviews for me said Julia. “My argument is the same: whether it was 10 months or 7 months, it was way, way too long.”

As well as believing her case was “intentionally prolonged”, Julia also claims that two separate HR managers told her she would face “disciplinary action” if she spoke out. Her manager also allegedly forced her to attend meetings with the principal investigator, despite being “partially” aware of his report, the FinancialTimes said. While Julia herself did not sign a non-disclosure agreement, many other DeepMind employees did.

In a separate Medium post, Julia and others offered several suggestions on how Alphabet (Google’s parent company and DeepMind) can improve its response to complaints and reported issues, such as removing the NDA policy for victims and the establishment of a strict two-month deadline for HR to settle complaints.

The Alphabet Workers Union also expressed its support for Julia in a Tweeter, noting, “The NDAs we sign should never be used to silence victims of workplace harassment or abuse. Alphabet should have a global policy against this.

In a statement to The edge, DeepMind’s acting communications manager, Laura Anderson, acknowledged the difficulties Julia went through, but avoided taking responsibility for her experiences. “DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct very seriously and we place the safety of our employees at the heart of all actions we take,” Anderson said. “The allegations have been thoroughly investigated and the person investigated for misconduct has been terminated without any severance pay…We are sorry that our former employee experienced what he did and we recognize that he found the process difficult.”

DeepMind has faced concerns about its treatment of employees in the past. In 2019, a Bloomberg The report says DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, also known as “Moose”, has been placed on administrative leave over controversy surrounding some of his projects. Suleyman left the company later that year to join Google. In 2021, a the wall street journal report revealed that Suleyman was stripped of his leadership role in 2019 for allegedly bullying staff members. Google also launched an investigation into his behavior at the time, but never made its findings public.

“If anyone finds themselves in a similar situation: first, now, before something bad happens, join a union,” Julia said in response to the wider concerns. “Then, if something serious happens: document everything. Know your rights. Don’t let them hang around. Stay vocal. These stories are real, they happen to your colleagues.

Fix for April 5 at 6:51 p.m. ET: An earlier version of the story stated that Julia had signed an NDA. She didn’t, but other DeepMind employees did. We regret the error.

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