How a religious group led to a lawsuit against Google.
A video producer says he was fired from Google because he complained that a small group from the Sierra foothills ran a business unit there.
In a small town at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a religious group called the Fellowship of Friends has built a 1200 acre complex with lots of art and beautiful buildings.
The Fellowship’s headquarters are in Oregon House, California, which is more than 200 miles away. However, the religious group, which believes that fine arts and culture can lead to a higher level of consciousness, has also gained a foothold in a business unit at Google, which is less than 100 miles from Oregon House.
Even at Google, where everyone is free to say what they think and work on their own projects, the Fellowship’s presence in the business unit was unusual. According to a lawsuit filed by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-year-old former Google video producer, as many as 12 Fellowship members and close relatives worked for the Google Developer Studio, or GDS. The GDS makes videos that show off the company’s technologies.
At company events, many others worked at registration desks, took pictures, played music, gave massages, and served wine. The lawsuit says that Google often bought wine for these events from an Oregon House winery that was owned by a member of the Fellowship.
Mr. Lloyd said that he was fired from his job last year because he complained about the religious sect’s power. His lawsuit also names the company that sent Mr. Lloyd to Google as a contractor, Advanced Systems Group, or ASG. Most of the people on the Google Developer Studio team joined as contractors through ASG. Many members of the Fellowship are among these people.
Mr. Lloyd filed the suit in August in California Superior Court. It says that Google and ASG broke a California law that protects workers from discrimination at work. It is still being found out.
The New York Times found that many of the claims in the lawsuit were true by talking to eight current and former employees of the Google business unit and by looking at public information and other documents. These were things like a list of Fellowship of Friends members, Google spreadsheets with event budgets, and pictures from these events.
Courtenay Mencini, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a statement, “We have employee and supplier policies that have been in place for a long time to prevent discrimination and conflicts of interest, and we take those policies very seriously.” “It’s against the law to ask about someone’s religion if they work for us or are one of our suppliers, but we’ll look into these claims carefully to see if there were any mistakes or bad business practices. If we find evidence that policy has been broken, we will act.”
Dave Van Hoy, the president of ASG, said in a statement that his company believed in “the principles of openness, inclusivity, and equality for people of all races, religions, gender identities, and above all, nondiscrimination.”
“We continue to deny the plaintiff’s false claims, and we hope to be proven right soon in court,” he said.
The Fellowship of Friends was started in 1970 by Robert Earl Burton, a former schoolteacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. The group calls itself “open to anyone who wants to pursue the spiritual work of awakening.” It says it has 1,500 members around the world, with 500 to 600 living in and around its Oregon House compound. Most organizations ask members to give 10 percent of their monthly income to the group.
Mr. Burton’s teachings were based on the Fourth Way, which was made by a Greek-Armenian philosopher and one of his students in the early 20th century. They thought that most people went through life in a state of “waking sleep,” but that it was possible to have a higher level of consciousness. Mr. Burton said that historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Walt Whitman came to him in the form of angels. He taught that the fine arts were the way to reach true consciousness.