When Google went public on August 19, 2004, roughly 900 employees became instant millionaires. Fast forward 10 years and the company founders are two of the wealthiest people in the world. Sergey Brin is worth $29.3 billion and Larry Page is worth $29.8 billion. If you were lucky/smart enough to be one of the company's earliest employees, your shares would theoretically be worth hundreds of millions of dollars today (assuming you never sold any and stayed at the company to fully vest).
Unfortunately, there is one very early Googler named Brian Reid who did not get to experience a financial bonanza when the company went public. Brian was Google's first Director of Operations until he was unceremoniously fired by Larry Page. Tragically, he was terminated just nine days before Google announced that it was going public. By losing his job, Brian forfeited all of his Google shares. Shares that would been worth a FORTUNE seven months later when the company was officially listed on the NASDAQ. As you can imagine, he was enraged. Enraged enough to launch a bitter and lengthy lawsuit that dragged on for six years.
Brian Reid was born in 1949 and received his B.S. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1970. He earned a PhD in Computer Science in 1980 at Carnegie-Mellon where he was a member of the core team that defined Internet email standards. After his PhD studies, Reid taught electrical engineering and computer science at Stanford as an associate professor. He then joined the private sector. He was a member of the team that developed the first Cisco router as part of the company that eventually evolved into Adobe Systems. He led the group that created the first Internet firewall in 1987 and built the first high-powered Internet search engine, AltaVista, in 1995.
As you can see, Reid was well qualified for the job at Google.
Reid became Google's Director of Operations in June 2002 and was given several hundred thousand options in the private company.
During his time at Google, Brian only had one performance review, from his manager Wayne Rosing. The review was positive. In the review, Rosing described Reid as having "an extraordinarily broad range of knowledge concerning Operations, Engineering in general and an aptitude and orientation towards operational and IT issues." Rosing noted that Reid "projected confidence when dealing with fast changing situations," "had an excellent attitude about what 'OPS' and 'Support' mean," and was "very intelligent," "creative," "a terrific problem solver," and that the "vast majority of Ops ran great." Rosing gave Reid a performance rating indicating he "consistently met expectations."
In October 2003 Brian was moved onto a project at Google that had no funding and no staff. His former position and duties were taken over by Urs Holze, who was 15 years younger than Reid.
He was fired in February 2004 by the then 30-year-old Larry Page. With his termination, Reid was told that he was "not a cultural fit". At the time he was fired, 131,917 of his options had vested. These options alone would have been worth $11.2 million when Google went public at $85 a share seven months later. His un-vested options would have been worth an additional $45 – $60 million.
Losing out on around $50 million is painful, but unfortunately that's actually just part of the story. Let's assume for a moment that Brian had never been fired from Google at all and was therefore able to become fully vested with his entire options grant. Assuming he never sold any of his shares, today his stake would be worth $304 million.
Reid proceeded to sue Google in July 2004 for discrimination on the basis of age. It was not an easy case. Three months later, the Santa Clara Superior Court granted a summary judgment against his claims. This judgement was overturned on October 4, 2007 by the California Sixth District Court of Appeal. The case finally went to trial in 2010.
Google argued that Reid's termination was not based on his age. They touted their famous progressive and nurturing corporate culture. They argued that Google just don't do things like that to their employees.
Reid argued in court that Urs Holzle and other employees made derogatory age-related remarks to him while he was employed at Google. Reid said Holzle told him that his opinions and ideas were "obsolete" and "too old to matter". He was allegedly called "slow," "fuzzy," "sluggish," and "lethargic," and was told that he did not "display a sense of urgency" and "lacked energy." Reid alleged that Holze made specific age-related comments to Reid every few weeks. Other coworkers called Reid an "old man," an "old guy," and an "old fuddy-duddy," told him his knowledge was ancient, and joked that Reid's CD (compact disc) jewel case office placard should be an "LP" instead of a "CD."
Google did acknowledged that some negative comments related to Brian's age were made. The lawsuit was settled out of court after the California Court of Appeals ruled that Reid had presented undisputed evidence supporting a prima facie case of age discrimination.
The case settled "to the mutual satisfaction of all parties" according to Brian's lawyer. The exact settlement amount was not released, but judging by his lawyer's comment, one must assume it was generous. Still, we can't imagine that the settlement was anywhere near what Brian Reid's stock options would be worth today. Brutal!