BUSINESS

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Cancels Town Hall On Gender Dispute

Town hall questions had leaked to alt-right media, prompting some workers to fear for their safety.

08/11/2017 08:40 EDT | Updated 08/11/2017 09:02 EDT

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Google CEO Sundar Pichai has cancelled an internal town hall meant to address gender discrimination on Thursday after employee questions for management began to leak online from the company's internal messaging service.

Pichai said in an email to staff that several Google employees became fearful for their safety and grew concerned about being outed for speaking up at the town hall.

He said the company will aim to create several other forums "where people can feel comfortable to speak freely." Pichai's email was sent about an hour before the event was to start Thursday afternoon.

The town hall was meant to hear out employee grievances over a flareup that has consumed Google for much of the week. It began last weekend after engineer James Damore circulated a memo that claimed biological gender differences helped explain why women are underrepresented at the company.

Google fired Damore on Monday. The engineer has claimed he had a right to voice concerns over workplace conditions and filed a labour relations board complaint prior to being fired.

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco, California, Oct. 4, 2016.

Google's internal "Dory" system allows employees to ask questions and then vote on questions posed by other employees so managers can address the most pressing ones. Wired magazine published some of the questions verbatim online Thursday. Screenshots of the questions with names attached had been leaked, although none with names had been published as of late Thursday, a Google spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, a graphic composed of the Twitter profiles of several Google employees who were gay, lesbian or transgender began to circulate online, assisted by conservative commentators such as former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos. That graphic drew hundreds of negative comments about the people and the company.