Google accused of ‘extreme’ discrimination against female employees

The Department of Labor says the tech giant has a systemic gender wage gap.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. CREDIT: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
Google CEO Sundar Pichai. CREDIT: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal

After reviewing a sample of compensation data, the Department of Labor has accused tech giant Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet, of a “systemic” gap in pay between men and women at the company and “extreme” discrimination against female employees.

The department filed a lawsuit against Google in its quest to get the company to hand over information on its compensation. Because Google contracts with the federal government, it’s required to let the department inspect records and information as part of routine audits to make sure it complies with equal employment laws. Although the department requested job and salary history information last year for a review, along with employee contact information, the company has refused to fully comply.

Yet the department said on Friday that even in its review of the snapshot of data that Google has shared, a large pay gap emerged. “We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a DOL regional director, testified in court on Friday, according to The Guardian.

Janet Herold, a regional solicitor for the DOL, told The Guardian that the department already has “compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters” and said that it is “quite extreme, even in this industry.”

Wipper argued to the court that the department needs earlier pay data to find out the cause of the disparities and to interview employees. “We want to understand what’s causing the disparity,” she said.

Google, for its part, has argued that the DOL is asking for too much information and that its request violates the company’s fourth amendment rights against unreasonable searches. It also claims it has closed its gender and racial wage gaps across its global workforce according to its own internal analysis, which it hasn’t made public.

The company has in recent years publicly released data on the diversity of its workforce; the latest numbers showed that women make up just 31 percent of all employees and 19 percent of its tech workers. Just a quarter of its leadership is female. Its workforce is about two-thirds white. While these figures show large imbalances, they are not outliers for technology companies.

Technology also appears to have ongoing gender wage gaps. Female software developers make about 83 percent of what male ones earn. Anonymous crowdsourced data on Glassdoor similarly found wage gaps in jobs such as programmers and front-end engineers.

Google is not the only tech giant to come under scrutiny from the DOL. The department sued Oracle in January, alleging that it also has “systemic” wage gaps favoring white men over female, black, and Asian employees. Last year it sued Palantir, alleging that it discriminates against Asian job applicants.

If Google continues to refuse to comply with the department’s requests, the lawsuit filed in January said the department would seek to have a court cancel all of its government contracts and bar it from new ones.

But it’s also unclear how aggressively the Trump administration will enforce these kinds of audits and actions. The president recently signed legislation that rolled back an executive order signed by President Obama requiring government contractors to disclose any violations of a number of labor laws over the last three years as part of the bidding process. One of the potential violations that had to be disclosed was failure to adhere to the equal opportunity and salary secrecy rules that the DOL is trying to ensure Google complies with.

Another violation contractors would have had to disclose was wage theft. According to a records review by The Center for Public Integrity, $18 billion in federal contracts were granted to or modified with 68 companies with proven wage violations. Now there will be much less incentive for that dynamic to change.