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Faced with accusations that it has unlawfully underpaid women, Google officials testified May 26 that retrieving the wage data that the Department of Labor (DOL) thinks will help show discrimination would take up to 500 hours of work and cost $100,000. The DOL said it uncovered pay disparities in a 2015 snapshot of salaries but said investigators needed an earlier snapshot to better understand the wage gap, The Guardian reports. Already the company has worked 2,300 hours at a cost of $500,000 to partially comply with the government's demands, which Google argues were unconstitutional. But DOL Attorney Ian Eliasoph said, "Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water." Google denies claims that it underpays women and asserts that DOL's data request violates the privacy of employees and Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches.
Google Cooperated at First, then Stood Up to OFCCP
Google provided the DOL's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) with "hundreds of thousands of records" in 2016 but was sued Dec. 29, 2016, for not handing over documents that would reveal private employee contact information, according to the company.
The investigation started on Sept. 30, 2015, when the OFCCP sent Google a letter stating that its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., had been selected for a compliance review to determine if there were incidents of gender compensation discrimination. The agency asked for job titles and salary histories for employees in a Sept. 1, 2015, compensation snapshot, which Google provided. The OFCCP also asked for a compensation snapshot as of Sept. 1, 2014, and the names and contact information for employees working for the company in 2014 and 2015.
Google refused to provide the names and contact information and the OFCCP sued, claiming a violation of Executive Order 11246, among other laws, which prohibits gender-based discrimination. OFCCP Acting Director Thomas Dowd said, "Like other federal contractors, Google has a legal obligation to provide relevant information requested in the course of a routine compliance evaluation." He added, "We filed this lawsuit so we can obtain the information we need to complete our evaluation."
Google's Refusal to Give OFCCP Information Approved
Earlier this year, an administrative law judge (ALJ) approved Google's refusal to provide information to the OFCCP, accepting the company's assertion that complying with the request would have been unduly burdensome. The OFCCP demanded a compilation of interview notes on about 54,000 job interviews that would have cost Google more than $1 million to produce, according to the ALJ. Google had received only $600,000 on the government contract for which the OFCCP was conducting the review. The OFCCP's demands "will far exceed all of Google's gross revenue under the contract," the ALJ stated.
Evidence of 'Extreme' Gender Pay Disparity
A DOL attorney told a federal judge in April that Google had discriminated against women and said the investigation has unearthed evidence of "extreme" gender pay discrimination. "We found … compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce," DOL regional director Janette Wipper said during her testimony at a hearing. But Google Attorney Lisa Barnett Sween said that the Labor Department's request for data was a "fishing expedition that has absolutely no relevance to the compliance review." And Eileen Naughton, Google's vice president of people operations, wrote on the company's blog that the company was "quite surprised" when a representative of the OFCCP at the DOL accused the company of not compensating women fairly.
How to Conduct a Multistate Fair-Pay Audit
Federal laws such as the Equal Pay Act, Executive Order 11246 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 aren't the only statutes prohibiting pay discrimination. Many states and cities have enacted fair-pay laws. The patchwork of local laws creates a compliance challenge for multistate employers that want to equalize pay among male and female employees. Businesses can be proactive by conducting regular fair-pay audits and fixing any unexplainable pay disparities.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Pay Equity]
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