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I was fired for blowing the whistle on cult's status in Google unit, says contractor

The internet giant, a doomsday religious sect, and a lawsuit in Silicon Valley

A former Google video producer has sued the internet giant alleging he was unfairly fired for blowing the whistle on a religious sect that had all but taken over his business unit. 

The lawsuit demands a jury trial and financial restitution for "religious discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation and related causes of action." It alleges Peter Lubbers, director of the Google Developer Studio (GDS) film group in which 34-year-old plaintiff Kevin Lloyd worked, is not only a member of The Fellowship of Friends, the exec was influential in growing the studio into a team that, in essence, funneled money back to the fellowship.

In his complaint [PDF], filed in a California Superior Court in Silicon Valley, Lloyd lays down a case that he was fired for expressing concerns over the fellowship's influence at Google, specifically in the GDS. When these concerns were reported to a manager, Lloyd was told to drop the issue or risk losing his job, it is claimed. 

The Fellowship of Friends is a non-denominational religious group that believes spiritual enlightenment can be achieved through embracing art and culture. As noted in Lloyd's court filing, the fellowship has been described as a California winemaker turned doomsday cult mired in allegations of sexual exploitation. Earlier lawsuits brought by others against the fellowship's leader, former school teacher Robert Earl Burton, were settled out of court.

The sect typically collects 10 percent of its members' income, and boasts it has as many as 600 of them at its compound in Oregon House, California, and some 1,500 members worldwide.

At Google, Lloyd claimed, members of the fellowship used their positions to land their fellows jobs in the GDS. The lawsuit also accuses fellowship members of lining up work for members at Google, such as event staffing, and alleges that fellowship members used their connections to ensure wine produced by the fellowship's vineyard was purchased for many Google events. Of the 25 members of the GDS, Lloyd's suit alleges that roughly half were members of the fellowship.

For an in-depth New York Times story published this week, a Google spokesperson said the web goliath has a longstanding employee and supplier policy that prevents discrimination and conflicts of interest. "We'll of course thoroughly look into these allegations for any irregularities or improper contracting practices. If we find evidence of policy violations, we will take action," the spokesperson said. 

Google added that, from its point of view, Lloyd was let go in February 2021 for performance reasons.

Also named in the lawsuit is Advanced Systems Group (ASG), the staffing agency through which Lloyd, and most of the GDS team, got their contractor jobs at Google. Lubbers, Lloyd's supervisor, is named in the lawsuit as being the person directing much of the personnel and financial flow between the fellowship, ASG, and Google.

"Mr Lubbers gained status and praise relative to the increase of money flowing to the fellowship through his efforts at Google that put (and kept) other fellowship members – directly or indirectly – on Google's payroll," the suit alleged. 

Lubbers told the New York Times it's perfectly fine for him to encourage people to apply for jobs, and that ASG was ultimately responsible for selecting people and providing Google with those workers.

The newspaper also said it confirmed Lubbers was and still is a member of the sect.

"My personal religious beliefs are a deeply held private matter," Lubbers told the Times. "In all my years in tech, they have never played a role in hiring. I have always performed my role by bringing in the right talent for the situation — bringing in the right vendors for the jobs."

Lloyd, who brought his lawsuit against Google and ASG in August last year, in April filed [PDF] a motion arguing that Google should answer his complaint: it appears the internet mega-corp claimed that as Lloyd was hired as a non-employee TVC – Google's term for temporary workers, vendors and contractors – it can't be held liable in this employment dispute. Lloyd insists Google was effectively his joint employer along with ASG.

A next hearing is set for August 4, 2022.

In 2008, staffing company Kelly Services was sued by a former employee claiming she wasn't promoted due to not being a member of the fellowship, a large contingent of whom worked at Kelly at that time. Lubbers was reportedly among them. ®

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