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How Google Protected Andy Rubin, the 'Father of Android'

Linked by Paul Ciano on November 1, 2018

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Katie Benner, The New York Times:

“I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” Larry Page, Google’s chief executive then, said in a public statement. “With Android he created something truly remarkable — with a billion-plus happy users.”

What Google did not make public was that an employee had accused Mr. Rubin of sexual misconduct. The woman, with whom Mr. Rubin had been having an extramarital relationship, said he coerced her into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013, according to two company executives with knowledge of the episode. Google investigated and concluded her claim was credible, said the people, who spoke on the condition that they not be named, citing confidentiality agreements. Mr. Rubin was notified, they said, and Mr. Page asked for his resignation.

Google could have fired Mr. Rubin and paid him little to nothing on the way out. Instead, the company handed him a $90 million exit package, paid in installments of about $2 million a month for four years, said two people with knowledge of the terms. The last payment is scheduled for next month.

Mr. Rubin’s case stood out for how much Google paid him and its silence on the circumstances of his departure. After Mr. Rubin left, the company invested millions of dollars in his next venture.

Google’s sexual harassment policy states that violators may be terminated — but it was flexible in how it enforced the rules.

In 2013, Richard DeVaul, a director at Google X, the company’s research and development arm, interviewed Star Simpson, a hardware engineer. During the job interview, she said he told her that he and his wife were “polyamorous,” a word often used to describe an open marriage. She said he invited her to Burning Man, an annual festival in the Nevada desert, the following week.

Ms. Simpson went with her mother and said she thought it was an opportunity to talk to Mr. DeVaul about the job. She said she brought conservative clothes suitable for a professional meeting.

At Mr. DeVaul’s encampment, Ms. Simpson said, he asked her to remove her shirt and offered a back rub. She said she refused. When he insisted, she said she relented to a neck rub.

“I didn’t have enough spine or backbone to shut that down as a 24-year-old,” said Ms. Simpson, now 30.

A few weeks later, Google told her she did not get the job, without explaining why.

In another harassment case, Google paid Amit Singhal, a senior vice president who headed search, millions of dollars on the way out.

In 2015, an employee said Mr. Singhal groped her at a boozy off-site event attended by dozens of colleagues, said three people who were briefed on the incident. Google investigated and found that Mr. Singhal was inebriated and there were no witnesses, they said.

Google found her claim credible, they said. The company did not fire Mr. Singhal, but accepted his resignation and negotiated an exit package that paid him millions and prevented him from working for a competitor, said the people.

In a blog post in February 2016, Mr. Singhal said he wanted to focus more on philanthropy and his family.

Mr. Rubin joined Google in 2005 when it acquired his start-up, Android, for $50 million. Over the next few years, he helped build Android — the software now used in 80 percent of the world’s smartphones — into a huge success.

Search had positioned Google as a dominant player on desktop computers, but Android extended its reach and put Google’s maps, email and web browser on devices that people carry every day. The ads and mobile apps running on Android also generated tens of billions of dollars in profit.

That success gave Mr. Rubin more latitude than most Google executives, said four people who worked with him.

Mr. Rubin often berated subordinates as stupid or incompetent, they said. Google did little to curb that behavior. It took action only when security staff found bondage sex videos on Mr. Rubin’s work computer, said three former and current Google executives briefed on the incident. That year, the company docked his bonus, they said.

In a civil suit filed this month by Mr. Rubin’s ex-wife, Rie Rubin, she claimed he had multiple “ownership relationships” with other women during their marriage, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to them. The couple were divorced in August.

The suit included a screenshot of an August 2015 email Mr. Rubin sent to one woman. “You will be happy being taken care of,” he wrote. “Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.”

Mr. Rubin built a robotics division within Google named Replicant. During a six-month span in 2013, he spent an estimated $90 million to buy eight robotics firms.

Around that time, Mr. Rubin was casually seeing another woman he knew from Android, according to two company executives briefed on the relationship. The two had started dating in 2012 when he was still leading the division, these people said.

By 2013, she had cooled on him and wanted to break things off but worried it would affect her career, said the people. That March, she agreed to meet him at a hotel, where she said he pressured her into oral sex, they said. The incident ended the relationship.

The woman waited until 2014 before filing a complaint to Google’s human resources department and telling officials about the relationship, the people said. Google began an investigation.

In September 2014, a few weeks into the inquiry, Google’s board awarded Mr. Rubin a stock grant worth $150 million, to be paid out over several years, said three people briefed on the decision. It was an unusually generous sum, even by Google’s standards.

Google’s inquiry ultimately found the complaint against Mr. Rubin credible, said the two company executives familiar with the incident. Mr. Rubin denied the accusation, but it became clear that — at the very least — the relationship was inappropriate, they said.

The $150 million stock grant gave Mr. Rubin an enormous bargaining chip when he started negotiating his exit package about a month later. That is because an executive’s stock compensation — and how much of it they would leave behind — is often taken into consideration during settlement talks.

When Google fires lower-level employees, it typically marches them out immediately and pays little, if any, severance. But for senior executives, Google weighs other factors, said former executives. A wrongful termination lawsuit could mean unwanted media attention for Google and the victims of a misconduct case, with a loss resulting in significant damages.

In the end, Google paid Mr. Rubin $90 million, said two people with knowledge of the terms. The package was structured so that he received $2.5 million a month for the first two years and $1.25 million a month for the following two years.

The company then went out of its way to make Mr. Rubin’s departure seem amicable, including Mr. Page’s public statement of gratitude.

Afterward, Google invested in Playground Global, a venture firm Mr. Rubin started six months after leaving the company. Playground has raised $800 million.

Mr. Rubin’s wealth, fueled by Google, has increased by 35 times in less than a decade. According to his ex-wife’s suit, his net worth is now about $350 million, up from $10 million in 2009.

Paul Ciano

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