A state appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit brought by current and former Google employees who accuse the Mountain View tech giant of illegally banning them from saying anything to the media or to people. potential employers about their employment or working conditions.

The complaint was filed in 2016 by a Google product manager, under the name of John Doe, and joined by two former employees. They alleged that confidentiality agreements that all employees were required to sign prevented them from discussing unsafe or discriminatory working conditions – with regulators, the press, members of the public, or even among themselves – and prohibited them also disclose their salary when negotiating with a potential new employer.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge dismissed the complaint, saying it concerned working conditions exclusively regulated by the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, the NLRB filed its own complaint against Google, which agreed to post a 60-day notice assuring employees that they had the right “to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with others. employees, press / media and other third parties. “

But even if Google keeps that promise, the San Francisco First District Court of Appeals said Tuesday, employees can still claim damages from the company for allegedly breaking California labor laws.

Federal law is intended to protect the right of workers to organize and form unions, while “California law frowns on such policies for a different reason: because they interfere with the right of every employee to raise issues. in the workplace for supervisors, state agencies, courts and the public, ”said Justice Alison Tucher in Decision 2-1.

She said federal labor law would not protect employees against a company’s ban on disclosing its practices to a competitor while seeking new employment, or against its ban on speaking to government officials about alleged violations of the law. the company to securities laws. California’s law allowing employees to disclose their wages, Tucher said, was sponsored by women’s groups to help enforce laws against gender discrimination.

Presiding Judge Stuart Pollak joined Tucher’s opinion. In dissent, Justice Tracie Brown said the state laws cited by the lawsuit had the same purpose as federal labor laws: “to enable employees to take action to improve their wages and working conditions.”

The reinstatement of the lawsuit “could allow plaintiffs to impose monetary penalties for the practices that the (National Labor Relations Board) has decided to remedy through a settlement,” Brown said.

Google said it would appeal the decision. When the complaint was filed in 2016, a company spokesperson told Reuters that employee complaints were “unfounded” and that the confidentiality commitments were aimed at protecting sensitive business information, not preventing discussions on working conditions.

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @BobEgelko