Is Eric Schmidt’s Departure Indicative of ‘Womanizing’ Culture at Google?

Eric Schmidt

On the same day an Associated Press survey of its member editors determined that workplace sexual harassment was the No. 1 story of 2017, Google’s corporate parent company Alphabet said its CEO, Eric Schmidt, will leave as chairman of its board of directors.

The development comes as Google became the subject of a recent report about corporation-wide mistreatment of women, accompanied by heightened scrutiny of Schmidt’s increasing reputation as a “womanizer.”

According to the New York Post, “news outlets have been sniffing around Schmidt’s former flames looking for a Harvey Weinstein-like bombshell,” but an anonymous source said “there is no sexual harassment.” A Google insider told the newspaper all his relationships have been “consensual” and that there are no settlements from the company to keep things quiet.

Nonetheless Schmidt’s exploits sound positively (Matt) Lauer-esque, with a “marriage” reminiscent of the separate lives existence of Bill and Hillary Clinton (who Schmidt passionately supported for president in 2016). According to a 2013 report by the London Daily Mail, Schmidt — who has maintained his legal binding to wife Wendy for 37 years — maintained a $15-million penthouse in Manhattan “to be close to at least two of his female friends.” He reportedly craved his privacy so much that he did NOT want a doorman, and thoroughly soundproofed the residence.

“He doesn’t want anyone to see him and his guests coming in and out,” a source knowledgeable about his apartment activities told the New York Post. “He insisted on his own elevator.”

The Post also cited another source who claimed Schmidt would have an aide approach beautiful women he didn’t know and invite them on his yacht as it cruised the French Riviera.

The Daily Mail documented at least four women with whom Schmidt has had in a “string of affairs” in what it described as his “open” marriage with Wendy. They are the parents of two grown-up daughters.

Wendy reportedly lives her own separate life on Nantucket. It sounds like the kind of arrangement Lauer had with wife Annette Roque, who lives in the Hamptons with their children, and like Harvey Weinstein had with spouse Georgina Chapman. Both women were stashed at home while the powerful men conducted their sexcapades with the knowledge – and some facilitation – by at least dozens of others.

Google and its leaders are among the major technology companies that love to express their moral superiority on issues like immigration, global warming, diversity and equality for homosexuals and transgenders, but in the current spotlight on sexual misconduct in liberal-dominated Hollywood, politics and the media, the search giant of Silicon Valley seemed to have a blind spot that goes well beyond Schmidt’s antics.

The whispers (“everybody knew,” like at The Weinstein Company and NBC) apparently have existed for years – just like in those other “industries” – but the public has heard little about workplace misbehavior in tech. However, a story from a few weeks ago about Google revealed there are problems.

Technology news Web site The Information reported that romantic relationships with subordinates by past executives have been allowed, despite Google’s policy that prohibited such conduct. Citing interviews with almost 40 current and former staff, an examination showed the corporation’s double standard and lack of accountability “have for years been a flashpoint of frustration and anger among Google’s employees.”

The permissiveness of the powerful went to the very top — with officials in addition to Schmidt — much like it did with Weinstein at The Weinstein Company, Roger Ailes at Fox News, and Lauer at NBC, to name only a few.

Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin both dated Google colleagues for a time – Page with Marissa Mayer, who later became CEO of Yahoo!, and Brin with the younger Amanda Rosenberg. Schmidt, when he was CEO of Google, dated former company publicist Marcy Simon.

Apparently those relationships were somewhat publicly known, but according to The Information another wasn’t: Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, who had an extramarital affair (and a baby) with a paralegal who has since left the company, Jennifer Blakely.

And a separate report by The Information last month revealed that Android creator and former executive Andy Rubin departed from Google in 2014 “after an internal investigation determined that he had carried on an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.” He took a leave of absence from his smartphone start-up company, Essential, “for personal reasons,” but returned two weeks ago. He has denied wrongdoing and said he did not leave Google because of the investigation.

Other troubling incidents at Google, cited by The Information and its sources, included:

  • “Several employees described boozy, off-site events that could feel more like a college party than an after-work gathering. One woman said that at one of these off site events, a male engineer who works for Google groped her. And in a separate incident, she said her manager once told her she might as well sleep with him because everybody assumed they already had.”
  • Tracey Kaplan, a sales manager who left the company this year, claimed her (married) superior “suddenly lunged forward and pressed his lips to hers.” “Her colleagues at Google told her that it wouldn’t be a good idea if she valued her career at the company,” The Information reported.
  • A former Google director, Kim Scott, said in a backhanded “compliment” that “Bad sh** happened to me at Google, but less bad sh** happened to me than anywhere else.”

And in an incident that received more attention, former Google engineer Kim Ellis tweeted out claims of sexual harassment by a number of superiors. One allegedly told her, “It’s taking all of my self control not to grab your ass right now,” and Ellis said the company’s human resources department failed to address her complaints. She later received affirmation from the U.S. Department of Labor, which said in a court hearing that Google has “systemic compensation disparities against women,” which the company has denied.

Following Ellis’s complaints an initiative called “Respect@Google” was launched, which encouraged employees to be more forthcoming about misconduct and harassment at the company, reporting incidents to human resources. The company promised to share statistics with employees about the numbers of complaints. According to a knowledgeable source for The Information report:

“Complaints to human resources by Google employees doubled in 2015 from 137 in 2014. The number of terminations that resulted from those complaints also doubled from 18 in 2014. The complaints included sexual harassment as well as other categories like bullying and retaliation.”

But, The Information reported, “Some said it didn’t, on its own, solve underlying problems that caused the behavior behind the complaints. And some employees said they still felt uncomfortable reporting bad behavior to the company.”

It makes you wonder why Schmidt (and to a lesser extent, Google as a company) has not received the same widespread scrutiny and ostracizing — especially from the media — as the other high-profile sex-obsessed powerbrokers. Even if he had no history of sexual harassment, has his Clinton-like years of alleged “womanizing” while maintaining a marital charade set the best example for those under his authority?

Could it be the outsized dependence the media has upon its revenue-generating website traffic from Google?

Is there an unspoken fear to not cross Google, lest high-ranking search results for major news organizations suddenly get buried more deeply, or even disappear?

As powerful as Weinstein and Lauer were, Google holds a unique power above them all.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for National Legal and Policy Center.