Google Inc. was accused in a class-action lawsuit of systematically paying male employees more than their female counterparts, adding the internet giant to a growing list of technology companies sued for gender discrimination. Three women who worked at Google in recent years sued Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court alleging the company pays women less than men for equal or similar work. They also say it puts women on career paths with lower pay ceilings. “This lawsuit is an effort to pull down the barriers and shatter the stereotypes,” their lawyer, San Francisco attorney James Finberg, said in a phone call. “Unconscious bias plays a large role in perpetuating gender disparities and compensation.”
The tech industry has been bombarded with accusations of sexism and sexual harassment. Microsoft Corp. and Twitter Inc. were both sued in 2015 on behalf of female engineers claiming men are favored for advancement. That’s the same year Ellen Pao put Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture front and center during a trial pitting her against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She claimed there was a sexually charged atmosphere where men preyed on their female coworkers and that she’d been blocked from promotion and fired for her gender. She lost, but the trial rallied other women to speak out. Google said it disagrees with the lawsuit’s 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,” company spokeswoman Gina Scigliano said in an e-mailed statement. “And we have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly.” Women continue to get paid less than men despite U.S. companies — and society overall — making great strides in equality, according to David Gottlieb, a civil rights attorney at Wigdor LLP in New York who isn’t involved in the Google suit. “Even for progressive companies that try to put the right policies in place, there is institutionalized discrimination that is very hard to get rid of,” Gottlieb said in a phone call. “Employers need to be highly vigilant — there’s still more to be done.”
Although the Google lawsuit seeks back-pay for the women, Finberg said he also wants to permanently change the culture of an industry leader in a way that will impact other companies, big and small, “so women in the future are treated fairly.” “We can bring about positive change not only at Google but at other companies in the Silicon Valley,” Finberg said.
Equal Pay Act
The suit seeks to represent all women who worked at Google in California during the last four years. The company allegedly violates the state’s Equal Pay Act by paying women less than men who have similar duties, experience and skills. Google has been well aware of the problem for years but perpetuates it by promoting women less frequently, the women say. One plaintiff, software engineer Kelly Ellis, worked at for Google from 2010 to 2014, according to the complaint. Another, Holly Pease, performed a variety of managerial roles at two Google offices from 2005 to 2016. The third, Kelli Wisuri, worked as a sales communications specialist and “brand evangelist” from 2012 to 2015. They allege Google kept them in “job ladders” that had lower compensation ceilings than men.
The suit cites data from a 2015 review of Google’s employment practices by the U.S. Department of Labor’s contract compliance unit that’s the subject of a separate federal administrative complaint against the company. The agency performed a statistical regression analysis of the pay for roughly 21,000 employees at the company’s Mountain View office for 2015. The analysis “found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” according to the suit. Silicon Valley companies have struggled in recent years to diversify their predominantly white and male make-up. According to Google’s most recent demographic report, 69 percent of its workforce and 80 percent of its technical staff are male.
The report shows the proportion of women in technical and leadership positions has increased 1 percent since last year. The Alphabet Inc. unit is simultaneously mired in controversy over its firing of a male engineer who criticized the company’s diversity policies for ignoring differences between the sexes. James Damore, who ignited a firestorm in August with a 10-page memo blasting Google’s “left bias” for creating a “politically correct monoculture,” has said the company “shamed” him for the views expressed in the memo. He filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Google has denied Damore’s allegation that its hiring practices are illegal. Finberg cited the memo as evidence of Google’s problem with discrimination. “That memo,” Finberg said, “was filled with stereotypical views about women and whether women have the same abilities.” The case is Ellis v. Google Inc., CGC-17-561299, California Superior Court, San Francisco County.