(CNN) — Facebook is due to hold an internal town hall on Friday to address employee concerns after the company’s top executive in Washington appeared in support of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at a Senate hearing.
Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s VP of global public policy, is a personal friend of Kavanaugh’s, and they worked together during the last George W. Bush administration. Kaplan sat behind Kavanaugh, among the judge’s family and friends, throughout Kavanaugh’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday.
Kaplan’s presence took Facebook colleagues by surprise, including those who work with him at the company’s office in Washington, according to a person familiar with the internal strife caused by Kaplan’s attendance at the hearing. “No one knew,” the person told CNN Business.
“Let’s assume for a minute that our VP of Policy understands how Senate hearings work,” one Facebook employee wrote in an internal message board posting seen by The New York Times. “His seat choice was intentional, knowing full well that journalists would identify every public figure appearing behind Kavanaugh. He knew that this would cause outrage internally, but he knew that he couldn’t get fired for it. This was a protest against our culture, and a slap in the face to his fellow employees.”
Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, weighed in on the issue in an internal post Friday, a day after the hearing.
“I’ve talked to Joel about why I think it was a mistake for him to attend given his role in the company. We support people’s right to do what they want in their personal time but this was by no means a straight-forward case,” Sandberg wrote in an internal post seen by CNN Business. Details of the post were first reported by The New York Times.
“As a woman and someone who cares so deeply about how women are treated, the Kavanaugh issue is deeply upsetting to me — as I know it is to many women and men in our company and around the world,” she wrote.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Kaplan.
A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement, “Sexual assault is an issue society has turned a blind eye to for far too long — compounding every victim’s pain. Our leadership team recognizes that they’ve made mistakes handling the events of the last week and we’re grateful for all the feedback from our employees.”
Kaplan has a prominent role at the company, and was by Mark Zuckerberg’s side when the Facebook CEO appeared before Congress last April.
Silicon Valley companies have been criticized by some on the right who say the social media giants are biased against conservatives.
Kaplan’s attendance at the hearing came a day before Facebook announced it had suffered its largest ever security breach, affecting at least 50 million users.
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