How a Religious Sect Landed Google in a Lawsuit

Oregon House, Calif. – In a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a religious organization called Fellowship of Friends has set up a 1,200-acre compound full of art and ornamental architecture.

More than 200 miles from the base of a fellowship in Oregon House, California, the denomination, which believes that higher consciousness can be achieved by embracing fine arts and culture, has also set foot in the business unit at Google.

Even in Google’s freewheeling office culture, which encourages employees to speak their minds and advance their own projects, the presence of fellowships in the business unit was unusual. As many as 12 fellowship members and close relatives worked for Google Developer Studio, or GDS, which produces videos showcasing the company’s technologies, according to a lawsuit filed by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-year-old former Google video maker.

Many others have staff at the company’s events, working at the registration desk, taking photographs, playing music, providing massages, and serving wine. For these events, Google regularly purchased wine from the Oregon House winery, owned by a fellowship member, according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Lloyd claimed he was fired last year because he was concerned about the influence of the cult. His suit also bears the name of Advanced Systems Group or ASG, which the company hired as Mr. Lloyd to Google as a Contractor. Most Google developer studios joined the team as contractors through ASG, which includes many members of the fellowship.

Suit, which Mr. Lloyd filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in August, accusing Google and ASG of violating California employment laws that protect workers from discrimination. It is in the search phase.

The New York Times corroborated many of the lawsuits by interviewing eight current and former employees of Google Business Unit and examining publicly available information and other documents. These include a membership roster for Friends Fellowship, Google Spreadsheets detailing event budgets, and photos taken at these events.

“We have a long history of employee and supplier policies to prevent discrimination and conflicts of interest and we take it seriously,” Google spokesman Courtney Mancini said in a statement. “It is against the law to ask for religious affiliations of those who work for us or for our suppliers, but we will, of course, fully investigate any irregularities or improper contract practices.” If we find evidence of a policy violation, we will take action. “

ASG President Dave Van Hoy said in a statement that his company “believes in the principles of openness, inclusiveness and equality for people of all races, religions, genders and the highest discrimination.”

“We continue to reject the plaintiff’s unfounded doctrine and expect it to be upheld in court soon,” he added.

Founded in 1970 by Robert Earl Burton, a former school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Fellowship of Friends describes itself as an organization “available to anyone interested in pursuing the spiritual work of awakening.” It claims 1,500 members worldwide, including about 500 to 600 members in and around its Oregon House compound. Members are usually required to donate 10 percent of their monthly earnings to the organization.

Mr. Burton’s philosophy developed by the Greek Armenian philosopher and one of his students in the early 20th century is based on the Fourth Way. He believed that while most people live in a state of “waking sleep”, higher consciousness is possible. Drawing on what he described as visits to angelic incarnations of historical figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, Johann Sebastian Bach and Walt Whitman, Mr. Burton taught that true consciousness can be attained by adopting fine arts.

Within the organization’s Northern California compound, called Apollo, the fellowship staged operas, plays, and ballads; Running critically acclaimed wineries; And collected art from around the world, including more than $ 11 million worth of Chinese antiques.

“They believe that in order to gain knowledge you must surround yourself with the so-called high impression – which Robert Burton believed to be the best thing in life,” said Jennings Brown, a journalist who recently created a podcast about a fellowship called Revelation. Mr. Burton described Apollo as the seed of a new culture that would emerge after the global apocalypse.

The fellowship came under fire in 1984 when a former member filed a 2.75 million lawsuit alleging that young people joining the organization were “forcibly and illegally sexually lured by Burton.” In 1996, another former member filed a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Burton sexually abused her when she was a minor. Both lawsuits were settled out of court.

That same year, the fellowship auctioned off his collection of Chinese antiques. In 2015, after its main winemaker left the organization, its winery stopped production. Fellowship President Greg Holman declined to comment on the article.

Google Developer Studio is run by Peter Lubers, a longtime member of the Fellowship of Friends. The July 2019 Fellowship Directory, obtained by The Times, lists him as a member. Former members confirm that he joined the fellowship after moving from the Netherlands to the United States.

At Google, it is a director, a role that is usually below the vice president in Google management and usually receives an annual return of a high six digits or a low seven digits.

Earlier, Mr. Lubbers worked for the staffing company Kelly Services. like this. Catherine Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s attorney won a similar lawsuit in 2008 against Kelly Services on behalf of Lynn Noyes, who claimed that the company had failed to promote her because she was not a member of the fellowship. A California court has ruled that Ms. Noyes lost $ 6.5 million.

Ms. Noyes said in an interview that Mr. Lubbers was part of a large group of Dutch fellowship members who worked for the company in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

In Kelly Services, Mr. Prior to his tenure at Silicon Valley software giant Oracle, Lubers worked as a software developer, according to his LinkedIn profile, which was recently deleted. He joined Google in 2012, initially working on a team that promoted Google technology to outside software developers. In 2014, he helped create GDS, which created videos promoting Google Developer Tools.

Kelly Services declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Under Shri. Lubbers brought in many other members of the group fellowship, including a video maker named Gabe Panel. 2015 photo posted on the internet by Mr. Panel’s father shows Mr. Lubers and Mr. With panel Mr. Burton, known in the Fellowship as “The Teacher” or “Our Dear Teacher.” One of the captions on the photo, which was recently deleted, is Mr. Create a “new student” panel.

Echoing the lawsuits, Eric Johnson, a senior video producer who has worked for ASG for Google Developer Studios since 2015, said the team’s leadership abused the hiring system that hired workers as contractors.

“They were able to advance their own goals very quickly because they could hire people with much less scrutiny and much less rigorous on-boarding procedures than if these people were brought in as full-time employees,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then that no one was watching closely when all these people were brought from the foothills of the Sierras.”

Mr. Lloyd said he met with Mr. after applying for his job. The panel twice, and he called Mr. The panel joined the 25-person two-area video production team within GDS in 2017. He soon noticed that about half the team, including Mr. Lubers and Mr. The panel came from the Oregon House.

Google paid for the installation of a state-of-the-art sound system at the Oregon House of Fellowship members working for the team as a sound designer. Mr. Lubbers disputed the claim in a phone interview, saying the equipment was outdated and would have been thrown out if the team had not sent it home.

The sound designer’s daughter also worked for the team as a set designer. Additional fellowship members and their relatives were hosted at staff Google events, including photographer, masseur Mr. Luber’s wife and son, who worked as DJs at company parties.

The company frequently served wine from Grant Mary, an Oregon House winery run by a fellowship member who previously operated the fellowship winery, according to the lawsuit and a person familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation.

“My personal religious beliefs are a deeply private matter,” Mr. Lubers said. “In all my years at Tech, they have never played a role in a job. I’ve always done my part by bringing in the right talent for the situation – bringing in the right vendors for jobs. “

He said ASG, not Google, had hired contractors for the GDS team, adding that “it was good to encourage people to apply for those roles.” And he said that in recent years, the team has grown to more than 250 people, including part-time employees.

Mr. The panel said in a phone interview that the team brought in workers from the “circle of trusted friends and families with highly qualified backgrounds,” including graduates from the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2017 and 2018, according to the lawsuit, Mr. The panel attended a drunken video shoot and occasionally threw objects at the presenter while he was unhappy with the performance. Mr. The panel said it did not remember the incident and did not think it would do anything. He also admitted that he had an alcohol problem and sought help.

After seven months at Google, Mr. According to the lawsuit, the panel was made up of full-time employees. He was later promoted to senior producer and then executive producer according to his LinkedIn profile, which has also been dropped.

Mr. Lloyd brought a lot about this to the attention of the manager within the team, he said. But he was repeatedly told not to take the matter further as Mr. Lubbers was a powerful person on Google and because Mr. According to his lawsuit, Lloyd could lose his job. He said he was fired in February 2021 and no reason was given. Google, Mr. Lubers and Mr. The panel said he was fired for performance issues.

Ms. Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s attorneys argued that Google’s relationship with ASG allowed fellowship members to join the company without proper investigation. “This is one of the methods used by fellowships in the Kelly case,” she said. “They can pass through the door without a normal check.”

Mr. Lloyd seeks damages for wrongful termination, revenge, failure to stop discrimination, and intentional onslaught of emotional distress. But he said he was concerned that, having done so much business with its members, Google had paid for the Friends Fellowship.

“Once you know this, you are responsible,” said Mr. Lloyd said. “You can’t look away.”

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