Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, one of the largest software companies in the world, hosted a fundraiser for Donald Trump’s re-election on Wednesday at the tech titan’s Southern California estate. The event was expected to bring in some $7 million for the incumbent president.
Some of Ellison’s employees were less than pleased about that, signing a protest petition and, according to Recode, planning to walk out on Thursday to demand Ellison and Oracle donate an equivalent amount to humanitarian causes and denounce what they see as the Trump administration’s failings.
Kristine Lessard, an Oracle sales account manager based in Massachusetts, signed the first petition with a personal appeal. “As an Oracle employee and mom of a transgender young adult,” she wrote, “I have appreciated the health benefits and HR Diversity and Inclusion support I've received for 8 years working here. I object to [Ellison] enabling this President who has specifically targeted Transgender youth to take away their rights by rescinding Executive Orders covering them.”
Lessard’s son is a trans man in his 20s, she explained to the Daily Beast in an interview around the time the fundraiser took place Wednesday. She believes the Trump administration has mounted a broad onslaught against LGBTQ civil rights (she cited a Washington Post editorial titled “Trump has a Devastating Record on LGBT rights.” in a message), and that even if she might not have a history in tech activism—and even if her company is not known for its restive workforce—she had to speak out.
“Oracle funds some advocacy and fundraisers on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community,” Lessard said, adding that she herself has participated in LGBTQ affinity groups at Oracle as an ally. “But in one fell swoop, this fundraiser could raise multiple millions that would work against those goals and hard earned gains,” she said.
Oracle declined to comment to the Daily Beast, but Recode noted that employees who complained to the company had received a statement saying they could participate in politics on a personal level even as the company itself was not endorsing a candidate.
“I’m disoriented. [Ellison] supporting the potential enabling of the president to get reelected doesn’t match up with our corporate values of social responsibility, especially two of the top ones: equality and environmental protection,” Lessard said.
Lessard was surprised and disappointed Ellison spoke in favor of Trump now, given that he didn’t appear to support the president in the 2016 election. The co-founder is a registered Democrat, but donated $250,000 to Marco Rubio’s campaign in 2016, according to federal election records. He and other executives also have a history of backing Republican Rep. Devin Nunes.
Lessard has discussed her opposition to Ellison’s decision with coworkers, she said, but she did not indicate whether she intended to walk out of work Thursday.
“I’m expressing my opinion as an employee about what the company represents,” she said. The discussion within Oracle is not monolithic, she added—some employees feel they can only throw up their hands at Ellison’s behavior, some feel compelled to speak out, and some have said little. Others may support the president.
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Lessard said she would be watching the Democratic candidates debate onstage in Nevada in the hours after the fundraiser Wednesday, though she said she doesn’t have a favorite candidate. Federal election records show no donations under her name.
Oracle’s workforce has not engaged in much public activism. By contrast, Google employees seem to have been in a state of constant revolt for the past three years, advocating for the search giant to drop a contract with the Pentagon, and questioning the ouster of union organizers and an employee protesting the company’s work with immigration officials, among other disputes. Google has told its employees to stop talking about politics at work.
The size and scope of a potential walkout remained to be seen late Wednesday. But if Lessard was any indication, some employees were increasingly willing to spar with a boss some feel has gone rogue.
“When you have this amount of people signing a petition, it really means it did strike a nerve,” she said.