How a Religious Sect Landed Google in a Lawsuit

OREGON Home, Calif. — In a tiny city in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a spiritual business called the Fellowship of Close friends has recognized an elaborate, 1,200-acre compound full of artwork and ornate architecture.

Much more than 200 miles away from the Fellowship’s foundation in Oregon Property, Calif., the religious sect, which believes a better consciousness can be attained by embracing good arts and lifestyle, has also acquired a foothold within a business device at Google.

Even in Google’s freewheeling office lifestyle, which encourages staff to discuss their have minds and pursue their have projects, the Fellowship’s existence in the small business device was abnormal. As a lot of as 12 Fellowship members and close kinfolk worked for the Google Developer Studio, or GDS, which makes movies showcasing the company’s technologies, according to a lawsuit submitted by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-yr-previous former Google video clip producer.

Numerous some others staffed organization activities, performing registration desks, taking pictures, participating in songs, furnishing massages and serving wine. For these occasions, Google consistently bought wine from an Oregon Dwelling winery owned by a member of the Fellowship, according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Lloyd claimed he was fired very last 12 months simply because he complained about the impact of the religious sect. His go well with also names Superior Methods Group, or ASG, the business that despatched Mr. Lloyd to Google as a contractor. Most of the Google Developer Studio joined the crew by way of ASG as contractors, together with lots of customers of the Fellowship.

The suit, which Mr. Lloyd submitted in August in California Excellent Court docket, accuses Google and ASG of violating a California work regulation that protects workers versus discrimination. It is in the discovery stage.

The New York Times corroborated quite a few of the lawsuit’s claims via interviews with 8 existing and former workforce of the Google business enterprise device and examinations of publicly accessible information and facts and other paperwork. These integrated a membership roster for the Fellowship of Friends, Google spreadsheets detailing function budgets and shots taken at these activities.

“We have longstanding employee and provider procedures in position to reduce discrimination and conflicts of curiosity, and we choose people seriously,” a Google spokeswoman, Courtenay Mencini, stated in a assertion. “It’s against the law to talk to for the religious affiliations of these who operate for us or for our suppliers, but we’ll of program completely glimpse into these allegations for any irregularities or poor contracting tactics. If we uncover proof of coverage violations, we will get motion.”

Dave Van Hoy, ASG’s president, said in a statement that his organization believed in “the ideas of openness, inclusivity and equality for individuals of all races, religions, gender identification and above all nondiscrimination.”

“We continue on to deny the plaintiff’s baseless allegations and expect to vindicate ourselves in court docket shortly,” he extra.

Launched in 1970 by Robert Earl Burton, a previous San Francisco Bay Location schoolteacher, the Fellowship of Buddies describes itself as an corporation “available to anybody intrigued in pursuing the non secular operate of awakening.” It claims 1,500 members throughout the globe, with about 500 to 600 in and all over its compound in Oregon House. Users are normally demanded to give 10 p.c of their monthly earnings to the corporation.

Mr. Burton centered his teachings on the Fourth Way, a philosophy created in the early 20th century by a Greek Armenian thinker and a single of his college students. They believed that while most individuals moved by way of daily life in a state of “waking rest,” a greater consciousness was feasible. Drawing on what he described as visits from angelic incarnations of historic figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Johann Sebastian Bach and Walt Whitman, Mr. Burton taught that correct consciousness could be reached by embracing the fantastic arts.

Inside of the organization’s Northern California compound, named Apollo, the Fellowship staged operas, performs and ballets ran a critically acclaimed vineyard and collected art from across the world, including extra than $11 million in Chinese antiques.

“They think that to achieve enlightenment you need to surround yourself with so-identified as better impressions — what Robert Burton thought to be the very best matters in lifetime,” said Jennings Brown, a journalist who not too long ago generated a podcast about the Fellowship identified as “Revelations.” Mr. Burton described Apollo as the seed of a new civilization that would emerge soon after a world-wide apocalypse.

The Fellowship arrived less than fire in 1984 when a previous member filed a $2.75 million lawsuit proclaiming that young males who joined the business “had been forcefully and unlawfully sexually seduced by Burton.” In 1996, another previous member filed a suit that accused Mr. Burton of sexual misconduct with him even though he was minimal. Equally suits have been settled out of courtroom.

The exact year, the Fellowship bought its selection of Chinese antiques at auction. In 2015, just after its chief winemaker still left the corporation, its vineyard ceased output. The Fellowship’s president, Greg Holman, declined to remark for this write-up.

The Google Developer Studio is operate by Peter Lubbers, a longtime member of the Fellowship of Close friends. A July 2019 Fellowship directory, obtained by The Occasions, lists him as a member. Former customers ensure that he joined the Fellowship after transferring to the United States from the Netherlands.

At Google, he is a director, a role that is usually a rung under vice president in Google management and normally receives yearly payment in the substantial six figures or low seven figures.

Previously, Mr. Lubbers worked for the staffing business Kelly Products and services. M. Catherine Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, received a equivalent match against Kelly Companies in 2008 on behalf of Lynn Noyes, who claimed that the company experienced unsuccessful to advertise her because she was not a member of the Fellowship. A California court awarded Ms. Noyes $6.5 million in damages.

Ms. Noyes said in an job interview that Mr. Lubbers was amongst a huge contingent of Fellowship users from the Netherlands who worked for the enterprise in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

At Kelly Services, Mr. Lubbers worked as a computer software developer prior to a stint at Oracle, the Silicon Valley application huge, according to his LinkedIn profile, which was recently deleted. He joined Google in 2012, at first performing on a group that promoted Google technological know-how to outside the house program developers. In 2014, he assisted create G.D.S., which manufactured movies promoting Google developer equipment.

Kelly Providers declined to remark on the lawsuit.

Below Mr. Lubbers, the group brought in many other members of the Fellowship, including a online video producer named Gabe Pannell. A 2015 image posted to the net by Mr. Pannell’s father displays Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell with Mr. Burton, who is regarded as “The Teacher” or “Our Beloved Teacher” inside the Fellowship. A caption on the photograph, which was also recently deleted, phone calls Mr. Pannell a “new student.”

Echoing statements built in the lawsuit, Erik Johanson, a senior online video producer who has worked for the Google Developer Studio considering the fact that 2015 as a result of ASG, reported the team’s management abused the using the services of procedure that brought staff in as contractors.

“They have been in a position to even further their possess aims really rapidly for the reason that they could hire people today with significantly much less scrutiny and a significantly considerably less demanding on-boarding approach than if these persons ended up introduced on as full-time staff,” he stated. “It intended that no one was wanting incredibly carefully when all these men and women were being brought on from the foothills of the Sierras.”

Mr. Lloyd explained that right after making use of for his work he had interviewed with Mr. Pannell 2 times, and that he had reported specifically to Mr. Pannell when he joined a 25-person Bay Area video clip creation workforce within GDS in 2017. He quickly found that nearly half this team, which include Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell, arrived from Oregon Household.

Google paid to have a condition-of-the-art seem procedure put in in the Oregon Home household of one particular Fellowship member who worked for the staff as a seem designer, according to the match. Mr. Lubbers disputed this declare in a mobile phone interview, expressing the products was outdated and would have been thrown out if the team had not despatched it to the property.

The audio designer’s daughter also worked for the group as a established designer. Supplemental Fellowship customers and their family had been employed to team Google functions, such as a photographer, a masseuse, Mr. Lubbers’s wife and his son, who worked as a DJ at business events.

The firm commonly served wine from Grant Marie, a winery in Oregon Dwelling operate by a Fellowship member who formerly managed the Fellowship’s winery, in accordance to the accommodate and a particular person common with the make any difference, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“My individual spiritual beliefs are a deeply held private subject,” Mr. Lubbers reported. “In all my a long time in tech, they have never played a job in choosing. I have often done my function by bringing in the right expertise for the predicament — bringing in the ideal suppliers for the work.”

He explained ASG, not Google, hired contractors for the GDS crew, including that it was wonderful for him to “encourage persons to utilize for these roles.” And he stated that in the latest years, the group has developed to extra than 250 individuals, such as aspect-time staff.

Mr. Pannell mentioned in a telephone job interview that the team introduced in personnel from “a circle of reliable friends and households with exceptionally certified backgrounds,” which includes graduates of the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2017 and 2018, according to the match, Mr. Pannell attended video shoots intoxicated and sometimes threw issues at the presenter when he was unhappy with a effectiveness. Mr. Pannell explained that he did not recall the incidents and that they did not seem like a little something he would do. He also acknowledged that he’d had difficulties with liquor and experienced sought aid.

Just after seven months at Google, Mr. Pannell was produced a comprehensive-time employee, according to the accommodate. He was later promoted to senior producer and then govt producer, according to his LinkedIn profile, which has also been deleted.

Mr. Lloyd brought considerably of this to the notice of a supervisor inside the group, he mentioned. But he was continuously advised not to pursue the subject because Mr. Lubbers was a impressive figure at Google and mainly because Mr. Lloyd could lose his position, in accordance to his lawsuit. He mentioned he was fired in February 2021 and was not supplied a purpose. Google, Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell said he had been fired for functionality concerns.

Ms. Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s attorney, argued that Google’s romance with ASG allowed members of the Fellowship to sign up for the company with no staying properly vetted. “This is a single of the procedures the Fellowship employed in the Kelly scenario,” she claimed. “They can get by the doorway without the typical scrutiny.”

Mr. Lloyd is looking for damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to avert discrimination and the intentional infliction of emotion distress. But he stated he problems that, by doing so a lot enterprise with its customers, Google fed cash into the Fellowship of Mates.

“Once you come to be informed of this, you become liable,” Mr. Lloyd reported. “You just cannot glimpse absent.”

Stacee R. Grigg

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