(Written by Daisuke Wakabayashi)
Alphabet’s board of directors agreed to pay a former top Google executive as much as $45 million when he resigned from the company in 2016 after being accused of groping a subordinate.
The previously undisclosed sum was in the separation agreement for Amit Singhal, a senior vice president who ran Google’s search operations until February 2016. The amount was revealed Monday in a shareholder lawsuit accusing the board of directors of Alphabet, the parent of Google, of shirking their responsibilities by agreeing to pay executives accused of misconduct instead of firing them for cause.
The suit was part of the fallout over how Google has handled sexual harassment cases. The New York Times reported in October that Google had handsomely paid several high-ranking executives in separation agreements after they were credibly accused of sexual harassment, even though the men could have been fired for cause. In one case, Google handed a $90 million exit package to Andy Rubin, who used to head its Android division, after he was accused of sexual misconduct.
The shareholder lawsuit was filed in January in California Superior Court with redactions in the passages referring to board discussions. An amended version was filed Monday without the redactions.
Frank Bottini, an attorney for the shareholders, said the board-approved payments were an “abdication of responsibility.”
A Google spokeswoman said Monday that the company had “made many changes to our workplace and taken an increasingly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority.” She added, “There are serious consequences for anyone who behaves inappropriately at Google.”
According to the amended suit, Google agreed to pay Singhal $15 million a year for two years and between $5 million and $15 million in the third year as long as he was not employed by a competitor. He agreed to take a job at Uber about a year after his departure, then resigned from the ride-hailing company a few weeks later when the sexual harassment claim at Google became public.
Singhal left Google after an employee said he had groped her at an off-site event. Google investigated the allegation and found that Singhal had been inebriated. The company also concluded that the employee’s account was credible. At the time, Singhal said he wanted to spend more time with his family and focus on his philanthropy.
Singhal did not respond to a request for comment.
The suit also cited board meeting minutes confirming The Times’ report of the $90 million exit package for Rubin. A Google employee with whom he was having an extramarital relationship accused him of coercing her into oral sex. She filed a complaint, and the company’s investigation found her account to be credible. The separation agreement for Rubin was also contingent on his agreeing to refrain from working with rivals.
“This lawsuit simply repeats much of the recent media coverage, mischaracterizes Andy’s departure from Google and sensationalizes claims made about Andy by his ex-wife,” Rubin’s lawyer, Ellen Stross, said in a statement Monday. “Andy acknowledges having had a consensual relationship with a Google employee. However, Andy strongly denies any misconduct, and we look forward to telling his story in court.”
The payout for Rubin sparked widespread outrage at Google and, last fall, prompted a walkout of 20,000 employees who demanded that the company improve its handling of harassment claims. After the walkout, Google ended its practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or assault.
Google Walkout for Real Change, the organizer of the walkout, said a statement Monday: “The details of these outrageous exit packages, signed off personally by Google’s executives, are a symptom of a culture that protects and awards all harassers. Google is badly in need of accountable leadership and real, systemic changes.”
The lawsuit also provided a window into the workings of Alphabet’s board and the power exerted by Larry Page, a co-founder of Google and Alphabet’s chief executive.
According to the suit, the board’s compensation committee proposed paying Rubin a salary of $650,000 in April 2014 with the opportunity for him to get a bonus of more than double his salary. At the time, Rubin was an adviser to Google and no longer running the Android business.
The lawsuit said Rubin had declined to accept that pay package until he had spoken to Page. In August 2014, Page awarded a $150 million stock grant to Rubin.
Eight days after the $150 million grant was awarded, a Google official emailed the board committee asking for approval of Rubin’s compensation. Without any additional documents, the committee members — Paul S. Otellini, Intel’s former chief executive, who died in 2017; John Doerr of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins; and Ram Shriram of venture firm Sherpalo Ventures — said they had approved it, according to the suit.
Doerr and Shriram did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Google awarded Rubin the grant even though there was an active investigation into his misconduct. When Page ultimately decided to part ways with Rubin, the $150 million stock grant was a sizable bargaining chip that Rubin used to negotiate his exit package since an executive’s stock compensation is often taken into consideration during settlement talks.
Through an Alphabet spokesman, Page declined to comment.