Google accused of segregating women into lower-paid jobs

Women are paid less and deprived of advancement, lawsuit claims

Jeremy B. White
San Francisco
Thursday 14 September 2017 19:46
The Google logo is shown reflected on an adjacent office building in Irvine, California, U.S. August 7, 2017.
The Google logo is shown reflected on an adjacent office building in Irvine, California, U.S. August 7, 2017.

Three female former employees of Google filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the tech company of discriminating against women in pay and promotions.

Brought on behalf of all women working at Google, the class action suit alleges that the company “systematically” pays women less than men for “substantially similar” work - a violation of California law, which mandates equal pay in that situation.

Women at Google face diminished career prospects compared to their male counterparts, the suit alleges, saying the company has a record of “keeping women in job ladders and levels with lower compensation ceilings and advancement opportunities” while “promoting fewer women and promoting women more slowly” than comparable men.

“I have come forward to correct a pervasive problem of gender bias at Google”, Kelly Ellis, a former Google software engineer who is one of the plaintiffs said in a press release. “It is time to stop ignoring these issues in tech.”

According to the lawsuit, Ms Ellis was consistently paid less than male coworkers with similar backgrounds. It says she was hired at a lower pay level than a male team member who had comparable experience and that, by the time she was promoted to the next rung of the pay scale, “her male counterparts were on their way to even higher levels and compensation for similar work, ensuring that she could never catch up on the gender pay gap”.

In a statement, Google spokeswoman Gina Scigliano said the company was still reviewing the suit but that “we disagree with the central allegations.”

“Job levels and promotions are determined through rigorous hiring and promotion committees, and must pass multiple levels of review, including checks to make sure there is no gender bias in these decisions,” Ms Scigliano said. “And we have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly. But on all these topics, if we ever see individual discrepancies or problems, we work to fix them, because Google has always sought to be a great employer, for every one of our employees.”

The lawsuit amplifies a chorus describing a culture of sexism in Silicon Valley, with women coming forward in increasing numbers to recount discrimination and struggles with career advancement in a male-dominated industry.

Google is already under a spotlight for how much it pays female employees, with the US Department of Labor suing the tech giant in an attempt to obtain more data on compensation.

That federal scrutiny is cited in Ms Ellis' lawsuit, which quotes Department of Labor Regional Director Janette Wipper's statement in court that “we found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce“.

As it has clashed with federal labor regulators, Google has strongly denied allegations of pay inequity. A recent ruling went Google's way, with a judge ruling in July that Google was not compelled to turn over all the information sought by the labor department.

Accusations of sexism have dogged Silicon Valley for years, generating lawsuits against a lineup of prominent tech companies and more recently toppling executives. Former employees have sued Microsoft, Facebook (later dropped) and Twitter for gender discrimination, and the Department of Labor sued Oracle in January for paying white men more.

Multiple influential Silicon Valley investors have resigned this year after women accused them of harassment, and an investigation spurred by a former Uber engineer’s viral blog post recounting pervasive sexism contributed to the downfall of former CEO Travis Kalanick.

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