OREGON HOUSE, Calif. — In a tiny city within the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a non secular group referred to as the Fellowship of Associates has established an elaborate, 1,200-acre compound stuffed with artwork and ornate structure.
Greater than 200 miles away from the Fellowship’s base in Oregon Home, Calif., the spiritual sect, which believes the next consciousness could be achieved by embracing fantastic arts and tradition, has additionally gained a foothold inside a enterprise unit at Google.
Even in Google’s freewheeling workplace tradition, which inspires workers to talk their very own minds and pursue their very own tasks, the Fellowship’s presence within the enterprise unit was uncommon. As many as 12 Fellowship members and shut family members labored for the Google Developer Studio, or GDS, which produces movies showcasing the corporate’s applied sciences, based on a lawsuit filed by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-year-old former Google video producer.
Many others staffed firm occasions, working registration desks, taking images, taking part in music, offering massages and serving wine. For these occasions, Google often purchased wine from an Oregon Home vineyard owned by a member of the Fellowship, based on the lawsuit.
Mr. Lloyd claimed he was fired final 12 months as a result of he complained concerning the affect of the spiritual sect. His go well with additionally names Superior Methods Group, or ASG, the corporate that despatched Mr. Lloyd to Google as a contractor. Many of the Google Developer Studio joined the workforce by way of ASG as contractors, together with many members of the Fellowship.
The go well with, which Mr. Lloyd filed in August in California Superior Court docket, accuses Google and ASG of violating a California employment regulation that protects employees towards discrimination. It’s within the discovery stage.
The New York Instances corroborated most of the lawsuit’s claims by way of interviews with eight present and former workers of the Google enterprise unit and examinations of publicly accessible data and different paperwork. These included a membership roster for the Fellowship of Associates, Google spreadsheets detailing occasion budgets and images taken at these occasions.
“We now have longstanding worker and provider insurance policies in place to stop discrimination and conflicts of curiosity, and we take these severely,” a Google spokeswoman, Courtenay Mencini, mentioned in a press release. “It’s towards the regulation to ask for the spiritual affiliations of those that work for us or for our suppliers, however we’ll after all totally look into these allegations for any irregularities or improper contracting practices. If we discover proof of coverage violations, we’ll take motion.”
Dave Van Hoy, ASG’s president, mentioned in a press release that his firm believed in “the rules of openness, inclusivity and equality for individuals of all races, religions, gender identification and above all nondiscrimination.”
“We proceed to disclaim the plaintiff’s baseless allegations and count on to vindicate ourselves in court docket quickly,” he added.
Based in 1970 by Robert Earl Burton, a former San Francisco Bay Space schoolteacher, the Fellowship of Associates describes itself as a corporation “accessible to anybody enthusiastic about pursuing the religious work of awakening.” It claims 1,500 members throughout the globe, with about 500 to 600 in and round its compound in Oregon Home. Members are usually required to offer 10 % of their month-to-month earnings to the group.
Mr. Burton primarily based his teachings on the Fourth Method, a philosophy developed within the early twentieth century by a Greek Armenian thinker and one in every of his college students. They believed that whereas most individuals moved by way of life in a state of “waking sleep,” the next consciousness was potential. 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 true consciousness might be achieved by embracing the fantastic arts.
Contained in the group’s Northern California compound, referred to as Apollo, the Fellowship staged operas, performs and ballets; ran a critically acclaimed vineyard; and picked up artwork from internationally, together with greater than $11 million in Chinese language antiques.
“They consider that to attain enlightenment it is best to encompass your self with so-called larger impressions — what Robert Burton believed to be the best issues in life,” mentioned Jennings Brown, a journalist who just lately produced a podcast concerning the Fellowship referred to as “Revelations.” Mr. Burton described Apollo because the seed of a brand new civilization that will emerge after a world apocalypse.
The Fellowship got here beneath fireplace in 1984 when a former member filed a $2.75 million lawsuit claiming that younger males who joined the group “had been forcefully and unlawfully sexually seduced by Burton.” In 1996, one other former member filed a go well with that accused Mr. Burton of sexual misconduct with him whereas he was minor. Each fits have been settled out of court docket.
The identical 12 months, the Fellowship offered its assortment of Chinese language antiques at public sale. In 2015, after its chief winemaker left the group, its vineyard ceased manufacturing. The Fellowship’s president, Greg Holman, declined to remark for this text.
The Google Developer Studio is run by Peter Lubbers, a longtime member of the Fellowship of Associates. A July 2019 Fellowship listing, obtained by The Instances, lists him as a member. Former members verify that he joined the Fellowship after shifting to the USA from the Netherlands.
At Google, he’s a director, a task that’s normally a rung beneath vp in Google administration and normally receives annual compensation within the excessive six figures or low seven figures.
Beforehand, Mr. Lubbers labored for the staffing firm Kelly Providers. M. Catherine Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, gained an identical go well with towards Kelly Providers in 2008 on behalf of Lynn Noyes, who claimed that the corporate had failed to advertise her as a result of she was not a member of the Fellowship. A California court docket awarded Ms. Noyes $6.5 million in damages.
Ms. Noyes mentioned in an interview that Mr. Lubbers was amongst a big contingent of Fellowship members from the Netherlands who labored for the corporate within the late Nineties and early 2000s.
At Kelly Providers, Mr. Lubbers labored as a software program developer earlier than a stint at Oracle, the Silicon Valley software program large, based on his LinkedIn profile, which was just lately deleted. He joined Google in 2012, initially engaged on a workforce that promoted Google know-how to exterior software program builders. In 2014, he helped create G.D.S., which produced movies selling Google developer instruments.
Kelly Providers declined to touch upon the lawsuit.
Beneath Mr. Lubbers, the group introduced in a number of different members of the Fellowship, together with a video producer named Gabe Pannell. A 2015 photograph posted to the web by Mr. Pannell’s father exhibits Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell with Mr. Burton, who is called “The Trainer” or “Our Beloved Trainer” throughout the Fellowship. A caption on the photograph, which was additionally just lately deleted, calls Mr. Pannell a “new pupil.”
Echoing claims made within the lawsuit, Erik Johanson, a senior video producer who has labored for the Google Developer Studio since 2015 by way of ASG, mentioned the workforce’s management abused the hiring system that introduced employees in as contractors.
“They have been capable of additional their very own goals very quickly as a result of they might rent individuals with far much less scrutiny and a far much less rigorous on-boarding course of than if these individuals have been introduced on as full-time workers,” he mentioned. “It meant that nobody was trying very carefully when all these individuals have been introduced on from the foothills of the Sierras.”
Mr. Lloyd mentioned that after making use of for his job he had interviewed with Mr. Pannell twice, and that he had reported on to Mr. Pannell when he joined a 25-person Bay Space video manufacturing workforce inside GDS in 2017. He quickly seen that just about half this workforce, together with Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell, got here from Oregon Home.
Google paid to have a state-of-the-art sound system put in within the Oregon Home residence of 1 Fellowship member who labored for the workforce as a sound designer, based on the go well with. Mr. Lubbers disputed this declare in a cellphone interview, saying the tools was previous and would have been thrown out if the workforce had not despatched it to the house.
The sound designer’s daughter additionally labored for the workforce as a set designer. Further Fellowship members and their family members have been employed to employees Google occasions, together with a photographer, a masseuse, Mr. Lubbers’s spouse and his son, who labored as a DJ at firm events.
The corporate steadily served wine from Grant Marie, a vineyard in Oregon Home run by a Fellowship member who beforehand managed the Fellowship’s vineyard, based on the go well with and an individual accustomed to the matter, who declined to be recognized for concern of reprisal.
“My private spiritual beliefs are a deeply held non-public matter,” Mr. Lubbers mentioned. “In all my years in tech, they’ve by no means performed a task in hiring. I’ve at all times carried out my function by bringing in the precise expertise for the state of affairs — bringing in the precise distributors for the roles.”
He mentioned ASG, not Google, employed contractors for the GDS workforce, including that it was fantastic for him to “encourage individuals to use for these roles.” And he mentioned that lately, the workforce has grown to greater than 250 individuals, together with part-time workers.
Mr. Pannell mentioned in a cellphone interview that the workforce introduced in employees from “a circle of trusted buddies and households with extraordinarily certified backgrounds,” together with graduates of the College of California, Berkeley.
In 2017 and 2018, based on the go well with, Mr. Pannell attended video shoots intoxicated and infrequently threw issues on the presenter when he was sad with a efficiency. Mr. Pannell mentioned that he didn’t bear in mind the incidents and that they didn’t sound like one thing he would do. He additionally acknowledged that he’d had issues with alcohol and had sought assist.
After seven months at Google, Mr. Pannell was made a full-time worker, based on the go well with. He was later promoted to senior producer after which government producer, based on his LinkedIn profile, which has additionally been deleted.
Mr. Lloyd introduced a lot of this to the eye of a supervisor contained in the workforce, he mentioned. However he was repeatedly advised to not pursue the matter as a result of Mr. Lubbers was a strong determine at Google and since Mr. Lloyd might lose his job, based on his lawsuit. He mentioned he was fired in February 2021 and was not given a motive. Google, Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell mentioned he had been fired for efficiency points.
Ms. Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, argued that Google’s relationship with ASG allowed members of the Fellowship to hitch the corporate with out being correctly vetted. “This is among the strategies the Fellowship used within the Kelly case,” she mentioned. “They’ll get by way of the door with out the conventional scrutiny.”
Mr. Lloyd is in search of damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to stop discrimination and the intentional infliction of emotion misery. However he mentioned he worries that, by doing a lot enterprise with its members, Google fed cash into the Fellowship of Associates.
“When you grow to be conscious of this, you grow to be accountable,” Mr. Lloyd mentioned. “You possibly can’t look away.”