(Photo Credit: Robbie Shade, Creative Commons 2.0)
On Thursday, September 14th, three former employees of Google filed a lawsuit on behalf of every woman at the company dating back to 2013. The legal action could lead to major changes at Google and according to William Gould, professor at Stanford and former member of the National Labor Review Board (NLRB), the suit might provide more opportunities and upward mobility for women currently employed by the company. Gould told Wired, “Class action is the principal vehicle through which discrimination violations can be remedied,” continuing, “Corporations pay attention to the potential of monetary liability and money relief produces reforms better than anything else that exists.”
The suit is not the first attempt to hold Google accountable for gender discrimination. In 2015, the US Department of Labor commenced an investigation into the company’s business practices after discovering evidence of a significant wage gap between employees of varying genders. In an initial audit, the Labor Department found major discrepancies at several employment levels, causing the agency to pursue an investigation. The Labor Department is currently facing a lot of push back from Google executives who have refused to hand over certain information related to salaries, gender, race and bonuses.
Relatedly, the New York Times recently gained access to documents compiled by 1,200 Google employees, illuminating the severity of the situation. According to the Times report, the pay disparity increases as women work their way up to higher level positions. At level five, considered a mid-level position, the disparity is 6 percent, with women making an average of $153,000 annually and men making an average of $162,000 in the same period.
As noted by the Times, Google executives have urged reporters to take the data set with a grain of salt as it is not entirely random and lacks contextual information such as where the employees are currently working. According to Google, women make 99.7 percent of what male employees earn. However, the internet giant failed to provide the basis for its calculations.
In April, Vice President Eileen Naughton published a blog post promulgating the idea that Google is 100 percent devoted to gender equality. Referring to a “top-level analysis” from 2016, she expressed surprise at the fact that “a representative of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor (OFCCP) accused us of not compensating women fairly.” According to Naughton, Google uses a gender-blind methodology for determining salaries. Essentially, Naughton claimed, workers are paid according to their role at the company as opposed to their personal value – e.g. their work history and skill-sets.
The Class Action Suit
According to the lawsuit – filed by Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease and Kelli Wisuri – Google’s current method of paying employees violates the California Equal Pay Act. Additionally, the company is allegedly involved in “unfair and unlawful business practices.” Ellis, for one, claims that, though she came to the company with four years of experience, she was hired for an entry-level position and denied a promotion, even after she was recommended by a senior engineer. Due to rampant sexism, she resigned in 2014, having started at the company in 2010. Ellis told Wired she was inspired to take action when she saw that Google was refusing to comply with the Labor Department’s investigation. “[S]ince the Department of Labor investigation came out there’s been a denial, which made me realize that this isn’t going to get fixed unless we make them fix it,” she said.
As observed by Aarti Shahani at NPR, Google’s history doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when it comes to diversity. With no “measureable goals” in sight, the company’s recent diversity report showed a continuing lack of gender equality, with women making up 31 percent of the workforce and 20 percent of tech jobs. Additionally, the company has not publicized up-to-date numbers related to race and gender.
A class-action lawsuit could provide the force necessary to make Google (and other large corporations) accountable for gender discrimination.
If you or a co-worker have been discriminated against, contact an employment law firm today.