Google says it costs too much to prove that it has no gender pay gap

Google claims it analyzes its own pay data every year but that it would cost too much to hand it over to the government.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Google CEO Sundar Pichai. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Earlier this year, the federal Department of Labor (DOL) accused Google of having a “systemic” gap in pay between men and women. In its defense, Google shot back by saying that its own internal analysis shows that it has closed its gender wage gaps across its global workforce and pays all racial groups equally in the United States. Yet it never publicly released that analysis.

Now the company is fighting the government’s request for historic pay data by saying that it would be too costly to compile it and hand it over.

Because Google is a federal contractor, it is subject to periodic audits by the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) to make sure that it meets existing fair pay standards. But when the department requested compensation information, Google failed to fully comply, sparking a lawsuit.

The government said that it discovered an “extreme” gender wage gap at the company based on a snapshot of data.

Google is still fighting the DOL’s efforts to get a full dataset of compensation information and contact information for employees so that it can conduct interviews. On Friday, Google officials testified in federal court that it would require 500 hours of work and $100,000 to comply with the demands, on top of claiming that it has already expended 2,300 hours and almost $500,000.

“This is obviously a very time-consuming and burdensome project,” said Lisa Barnett Sween, an attorney for the company.

But given that it made $28 billion in revenue last year, the DOL argued that the cost is tiny for such a large company. “Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water,” said DOL attorney Ian Eliasoph. One calculation found that $100,000 amounts to 113 seconds of revenue. He also argued that the company is trying to claim it is “too big to comply” in order to skirt federal contracting requirements.

The company also argues that the process of getting the data has taken too much work, requiring employees to build new systems and conduct extensive reviews. “It became too burdensome,” said Kristin Zmrhal, senior legal operations manager at Google.

Yet no one seems to have mentioned that if the company feels comfortable asserting that it has no pay gaps based on gender or race, it must have already compiled and analyzed its own pay data internally, either by itself or by paying a third party to do so.

The company itself has touted these efforts. “Google conducts rigorous, annual analyses so that our pay practices remain aligned with our commitment to equal pay practices,” Eileen Naughton, vice president of people operations, wrote in a blog post in April, a process she called “extremely scientific and robust.”

Employees themselves have disputed the idea that Google pays everyone fairly regardless of gender or race. In 2015, Erica Baker talked publicly about a spreadsheet she had started that collected employee pay data, saying that the effort revealed “not great things” about compensation patterns and that some people were even able to use the spreadsheet to get equal pay.

The company has also been public about paying different salaries for the same jobs, supposedly based on performance. At the hearing Friday, Frank Wagner, the company’s director of compensation, admitted that women who start at lower salaries in the same jobs as men can hypothetically have those disparities carry forward even if they perform similarly and are scored equally on evaluations.

If women make less than men at Google, it wouldn’t be the only tech company grappling with this problem. Data has shown that female software developers, programmers, and front-end engineers make less than male ones, on average.

The OFCCP also went after Oracle for a “systemic” wage gap between white men and female, black, and Asian employees, while it sued Palantir for discriminating against Asian job applicants.

This kind of work may not continue much longer, however. The Trump administration has proposed folding the OFCCP into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, despite the fact that the EEOC doesn’t conduct regular compliance audits the way the OFCCP does. President Trump also rolled back an executive order issued by former President Obama that required government contractors to disclose violating labor laws, including failure to adhere to the equal opportunity rules Google is accused of violating.