Former DeepMind employee acuses company of mishandling sexual abuse complaint

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A former DeepMind employee has accused the company of mishandling a series of serious sexual harassment allegations. In a report published Wednesday, The Financial Times recounts the experience of a former female staff member who alleges she was sexually assaulted twice by a senior researcher at the Google subsidiary. She says her harasser also sent her multiple traumatic documents, including one where he made allusions to raping unconscious women.

DeepMind eventually dismissed the researcher, but not before it subjected his victim to a disciplinary process she argues showed major flaws in how the company handles such incidents. All told, it reportedly took DeepMind seven months to address the complaint, and only did so after the former employee filed an appeal. It then allegedly took another two months before the company finally dismissed her harasser in September 2020.

During that period, the former employee was told she would face “disciplinary” action if she talked about her complaint with colleagues. She was advised not to visit the office where her harasser worked, but her manager, not knowing the full scope of the complaint, repeatedly pushed her to attend meetings at that same building. According to The Times, DeepMind did not place any restrictions on the alleged perpetrator, a claim the company disputes. 

A spokesperson for DeepMind said the firm told the researcher not to contact the staff member in September 2019. The company also disputes a claim the researcher received an individual award for their work during the time they were being investigated by the company. DeepMind says the award was given for a historic team paper of which he was one member.

“According to your own findings, I was subjected to sexual harassment, assault and abuse… I will never be the same person. I have spent almost the entire last year fearing for my safety. There is absolutely… no reason why the investigation was so dysfunctional,” the former employee said in an August 2020 email to DeepMind’s senior leadership.

“Any incident of sexual assault or harassment is abhorrent. DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously and we place our employees’ safety at the core of any actions we take,” DeepMind told Engadget. “The allegations were investigated thoroughly, and the individual who was investigated for misconduct was dismissed without any severance payments.”

Following the incident, DeepMind told Engadget it implemented a series of policies to change how it investigates such matters. Among other changes, the company says it now communicates more clearly how employees should go about raising concerns, and that it has a better system in place to support workers who complain of harassment and discrimination. It also told The Times it “regrets” the former staff member was provided with “incorrect guidance around breaking confidentiality.”

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