By Sam Levin
Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.
As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said.
“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a DoL regional director, testified in court in San Francisco on Friday.
Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, said: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”
Herold added: “The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”
Google strongly denied the accusations of inequities, claiming it did not have a gender pay gap.
The explosive allegation against one of the largest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley comes at a time when the male-dominated tech industry is facing increased scrutiny over gender discrimination, pay disparities and sexual harassment.
The allegations emerged at a hearing in federal court as part of a lawsuit the DoL filed against Google in January, seeking to compel the company to provide salary data and documents to the government.
Google is a federal contractor, which means it is required to allow the DoL to inspect and copy records and information about its its compliance with equal opportunity laws. Last year, the department’s office of federal contract compliance programs requested job and salary history for Google employees, along with names and contact information, as part of the compliance review.
Google, however, repeatedly refused to hand over the data, which was a violation of its contractual obligations with the federal government, according to the DoL’s lawsuit. After the suit was originally filed, a company spokesperson claimed that Google had provided “hundreds of thousands of records” to the government and that the requests outlined in the complaint were “overbroad”, revealed confidential information, or violated employees’ privacy.
Labor officials detailed the government’s discrimination claims against Google at the Friday hearing while making the case for why the company should be forced to comply with the DoL’s requests for documents. Wipper said the department found pay disparities in a 2015 snapshot of salaries and said officials needed earlier compensation data to evaluate the root of the problem and needed to be able to confidentially interview employees.
“We want to understand what’s causing the disparity,” she said.
Lisa Barnett Sween, one of Google’s attorneys, testified in opening remarks that the DoL’s request constituted a “fishing expedition that has absolutely no relevance to the compliance review”. She said the request was an unconstitutional violation of the company’s fourth amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches.
Marc Pilotin, a DoL attorney, said: “For some reason or another, Google wants to hide the pay-related information.”
In a statement to the Guardian, Google said: “We vehemently disagree with [Wipper’s] claim. Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap. Other than making an unfounded statement which we heard for the first time in court, the DoL hasn’t provided any data, or shared its methodology.”
The company has recently claimed that it has closed its gender pay gap globally and provides equal pay across races in the US.
Herold told the Guardian that the department “seeks additional information to ensure the accuracy of the department’s findings, because if the findings are confirmed, this is a troubling situation”.
Google is not the first tech company to face legal action from the labor department over employment practices. In September, the DoL filed a lawsuitagainst Palantir, the Palo Alto data analytics company, alleging it systematically discriminated against Asian job applicants in its hiring process. Palantir has argued that the DoL’s analysis was flawed and the company has denied the accusations.
In January, the department sued Oracle, another large tech company, claiming it paid white men more than others, leading to pay discrimination against women and black and Asian employees. Oracle claimed the case was “politically motivated” and said its employment decisions were based on merit and experience.
In recent months, there has been uncertainty about the future of these kinds of aggressive DoL enforcement efforts under Donald Trump. The president has rolled back Obama-era protections for female workers, and some DoL staffers have raised concerns that the new administration will not embrace the agency’s core mission of supporting workers’ rights. An Oracle executive also joined Trump’s transition team, and the president’s close adviser Peter Thiel co-founded Palantir.
In the Google case, the labor department’s lawyers have asked the court to cancel all of the company’s federal contracts and block any future business with the government if it continues to refuse to comply with the audit.
Google began releasing diversity statistics in 2014 and reported last year that women made up 31% of its overall workforce and that only 2% of workers were black and 3% Latino. White employees accounted for 59% of the US workforce and Asians made up 32%.
Published on The Guardian's website on April 7, 2017.