In Focus: DOL Accuses Google of ‘Extreme’ Gender Pay Disparity

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright April 10, 2017
In Focus: DOL Accuses Google of ‘Extreme’ Gender Pay Disparity

​The United States Department of Labor (DOL) told a judge late last week that Google has discriminated against its female employees and says it has evidence of "extreme" gender pay disparity.

"We found ... compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce," said Department of Labor regional director Janette Wipper during her testimony at a hearing in San Francisco on Friday.

Google, one of the largest search engines in the world, denies the allegations.

Google Attorney Lisa Barnett Sween said in her opening statement in court that the Labor Department's request was a "fishing expedition that has absolutely no relevance to the compliance review." She called the request an unconstitutional violation of Google's Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches. 

"…We were quite surprised when 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," Eileen Naughton, Google's vice president of people operations wrote April 11 on the company's blog. "We were taken aback by this assertion, which came without any supporting data or methodology. The OFCCP representative claimed to have reached this conclusion even as the OFCCP is seeking thousands of employee records, including contact details of our employees, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of documents we've already produced in response to 18 different document requests.

"The fact is that our annual analysis is extremely scientific and robust. We hope to work with the OFCCP to resolve this issue, and to help in its mission to improve equal pay across federal contractors."

(The Guardian and Google's Blog)


The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) on Sept. 30, 2015, notified Google that, as a federal contractor, the Silicon Valley-based search engine was bound by law to submit to an evaluation to determine if it was in compliance with affirmative action and if there were any incidents of gender compensation discrimination or other violations of nondiscrimination.

The DOL requested salary histories and job titles for employees in a Sept. 1, 2015, compensation snapshot. Google provided that data. However, it refused to provide requested names and contact information of employees who worked for the company in 2014 and 2015. So the OFFCP sued and claimed the company was in violation of Executive Order 11246, the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act. 

(SHRM Online)


A DOL administrative law judge upheld Google's refusal to release the information, however.  The request was unduly burdensome, Google argued: the data would have cost the company more than $1 million to collect for the investigation pertaining to a $600,000 federal contract.

(SHRM Online)


Other tech companies have been sued for pay disparity and discrimination. In September, the Labor Department sued Palo Alto, Calif., data analytics company Palantir for alleged systematic discriminated against Asian job applicants.

"Palantir allegedly used a hiring process that discriminated against Asian applicants for software engineering roles, 'routinely eliminated' qualified Asian applicants in the resume screening and telephone interview phases and hired a majority of people from its discriminatory employee referral system," according to tech news site Tech Crunch. Palantir denied the accusations and argued the Labor Department's analysis was flawed.

The DOL also sued Oracle for paying white men more than anyone else. By paying white male workers more than their counterparts in the same job title, the DOL said Oracle discriminated against female, African American and Asian employees,

Oracle claimed its employment decisions were based on merit and experience and called the lawsuit "politically motivated." 

(Tech Crunch and CNN Money)

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: Affirmative Action: General: What is an affirmative action program?] 

As HR Magazine and SHRM Online reported, "pay equity has become a top-of-mind concern for employers nationally as a result of California's new gender pay equity law and similar legislation in New York and elsewhere."

It's up to HR professionals to ensure pay fairness and that begins with the salary offer. HR must also document initial salary decisions, monitor merit increases, and conduct pay analyses, experts say.

"Why are we talking about pay equity?" Mickey Silberman, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Denver asked attendees at SHRM's Employment Law and Legislative Conference in March. Because "we know that women earn less than men," he said. On average, women earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn. For black and Hispanic women, that number is even less—64 and 55 cents, respectively. 

(HR Magazine and SHRM Online)


Efforts to close the gender gap go far beyond the tech industry. Lawmakers around the world are endeavoring to equalize pay.

Canada, New Zealand, Iceland, the U.K., all want to eliminate pay disparity. 

(SHRM Online)

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