Andy Rubin, the creator of Android and a key executive at Google Inc. for nine years, left the company in 2014 shortly after an internal investigation determined that he had carried on an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, The Information has learned.
Mr. Rubin has taken a leave of absence from his new smartphone startup, Essential, for personal reasons, the firm’s employees were told on Monday. The Information had earlier contacted Mr. Rubin’s spokesman for this story.
Google initiated its investigation after an employee complained to the company’s human resources division about her relationship with Mr. Rubin, according to three people familiar with the matter. The people declined to elaborate on the specific nature of the woman’s complaint against Mr. Rubin.
• Google concluded Rubin had inappropriate relationship
• Rubin Left Google Shortly After Inquiry
• Rubin has taken leave of absence from Essential
Like many companies, Google has a policy that prohibits supervisors from having a relationship with a subordinate. Any manager entering into such a relationship has to report it to the company, which will move one of the two to a different department. The woman who made the complaint worked in Google’s Android division while Mr. Rubin ran it, The Information has confirmed.
Mike Sitrick, a spokesman for Mr. Rubin, denied that Mr. Rubin had done anything wrong or that his departure from Google was related to the complaint and investigation.
“Any relationship that Mr. Rubin had while at Google was consensual,” Mr. Sitrick said, and did not involve any person who reported directly to him. “Mr. Rubin was never told by Google that he engaged in any misconduct while at Google and he did not, either while at Google or since.”
Mr. Rubin has said publicly that it was his decision to leave Google. At the time of his departure, he was heading Google’s nascent robotic division, which he established in 2013 after leaving the Android team he created and ran. Oversight of that team was ultimately given to Sundar Pichai, who is now Google’s CEO. In a 2016 article published in Wired, Mr. Rubin said he left Google because he was impatient about the time it would take to remain and pursue basic research to create human-like robotic assistants.
Back in 2014, a member of Google’s HR department informed Mr. Rubin’s accuser that the investigation resulted in a recommendation that Mr. Rubin should face disciplinary action, a person with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry said. The Information could not verify what type of discipline had been recommended, or whether it had been administered. Two people familiar with the investigation said the conclusions were also discussed with Mr. Rubin.
These people, who didn't want to be named because the matter was confidential, said the internal investigation concluded that Mr. Rubin’s behavior was improper and showed bad judgement.
Mr. Rubin left Google in October 2014, soon after he and his accuser were presented with the results of the internal investigation. He went on to found Playground, a venture capital firm and technology incubator. Google is one of Playground’s investors.
Revelations about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Rubin’s departure from Google follow a cascade of sexual misconduct allegations across tech, media and entertainment, which have generated unprecedented scrutiny this year and toppled previously respected figures.
Mr. Rubin is considered one of Silicon Valley’s most admired minds. In 1999, he founded Danger, a hardware company that created the T-Mobile Sidekick, one of the first popular smartphones. He was on the cutting edge of the move from desktop to mobile when he helped found Android in 2003, a company (and its namesake operating system) Google acquired in 2005. Mr. Rubin helmed Google’s Android division from the time the firm was acquired until 2013. During that time, he oversaw the commercial launch of Android in 2007. As of last year, Android powered 88% of the world’s smartphones.
He started working on Essential toward the end of 2015 and launched a high-end smartphone based on Android software earlier this year, attempting to take on the iPhone and others. But according to one person close to the situation, initial sales were disappointing. The company slashed the phone’s retail price by $200. Essential has raised more than $300 million from investors that include Amazon.com, Foxconn and Tencent.
UPDATE: In a statement issued on Wednesday, an Essential spokesperson said: "At our last regularly scheduled board meeting earlier in November, Andy asked for a leave of absence to deal with personal matters. The Board agreed and our President, Niccolo de Masi, will continue to run day to day operations at Essential."
—Amir Efrati contributed to this article.