Google is known for its close-knit — and sometimes secretive — company culture, but one wouldn’t suspect an actual cult running things behind the scenes. Well, one Google contractor claims that’s exactly the case, as detailed in this unusual report from The New York Times.
Kevin Lloyd, a contractor hired to work as a video producer for Google Developer Studio (GDS), alleges at least 12 members of an obscure religious sect work for GDS and hold an inappropriate level of influence over the work environment. Lloyd claims he was wrongly fired for calling out the group’s behavior and has filed a lawsuit against Google and his contracting agency ASG for wrongful termination, retaliation, emotional distress, and failure to protect him against discrimination.
The religious group in question is known as the Fellowship of Friends. According to the Times, the Fellowship “believes higher consciousness can be achieved by embracing fine arts and culture” and has a compound spanning 1,200 acres in Oregon House, California. The group has even become the subject of an investigative Spotify podcast that promises to reveal its “dark secrets.”
Longtime Fellowship member Peter Lubbers leads GDS and has brought on a number of other Fellowship members, including video producer Gabe Pannell, the Times notes.
But things get even weirder than that — the Times’ report indicates Fellowship members hold roles at Google’s company events, “working registration desks, taking photographs, playing music, providing massages and serving wine.” Google also allegedly buys the wine served at these events from a winery run by a member of the Fellowship. In addition, Lloyd’s suit claims Google paid for a “state-of-the-art sound system installed in the Oregon House home of one Fellowship member who worked for the team as a sound designer.”
The Times says it corroborated some of these allegations after speaking with eight current and former Google employees, as well as by looking at publicly available documents, including a list of Fellowship members, event photos, and spreadsheets documenting event budgets.
Another contractor, Erik Johanson, told the Times that Google’s partnership with ASG enabled the GDS team to bring more Fellowship members on board, as contractors are hired “with far less scrutiny and a far less rigorous on-boarding process.” The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) has also called out managers’ potential abuse of Google’s contracting system in a thread on Twitter.
Lloyd’s complaints about the presence of the religious group were allegedly met with indifference — he claims he was fired without reason shortly after complaining. Google has responded by refuting Lloyd’s claims about discrimination at the company and says he was fired for performance issues.
If you want to read the full story in more detail, it’s worth checking out the report by The New York Times. Lloyd has also put the experience into his own words, which you can find in his post on Medium.