Illustration: Ashley Siebels
The allegations came Friday in a San Francisco courtroom. What makes this especially awkward is that just days earlier, Google said it had closed the gender pay gap globally for all of its employees.
In fact, Google said it had solved the gender pay gap so well that it was teaching other companies to do the same.
— Google (@Google) April 4, 2017
Ladders has reached out to Google for comment and we’ll update when we get a response.
How it all went down
The allegations came to light as part of an ongoing lawsuit that the U.S. government filed against Google in January. The government wanted to access Google’s salary data and other personnel records as part of a scheduled compliance review to make sure Google was following equal employment laws.
“Despite many opportunities to produce this information voluntarily, Google has refused to do so,” the government complained.
“We filed this lawsuit so we can obtain the information we need to complete our evaluation,” the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said back in January. Because Google is a federal contractor, the government requires the company to file salary compensation data.
But Google refused to hand that information over, saying the government’s request was “overbroad” and revealed too much confidential data about its employees.
Fast-forward to April 7, and the Department of Labor is testifying that it has the receipts for Google’s alleged discriminatory behavior.
Labor official Janette Wipper told the courtroom that the DoL had found “systemic compensation disparities” in a 2015 snapshot of salaries it got and it wanted Google to give the government earlier data to understand how long this had been happening. Google refuted the DoL’s allegations, telling the Guardian that it did an annual internal audit and had not found any gender pay gap.
The Labor Department’s crusade against tech companies’ discrimination
The Labor Department has been aggressively enforcing Silicon Valley in recent months.
In January, the Labor Department sued Oracle, accusing the software company of paying white men more than other employees with the same job title. It also accused Oracle of hiring discrimination, saying that the company favored Asian applicants over non-Asians for technical roles.
Meanwhile, Palantir was sued by the government in October for the opposite problem: the Labor Department said Palantir was discriminating against Asian applicants in its hiring and referral practices.
The risk that all of these companies face is that if they lose their cases, they lose their lucrative federal contracts. But that’s the extra scrutiny these companies deserve when they’re using public funds, the government says. “Our nation’s taxpayers deserve to know that companies employed with public funds are providing equal opportunity for job seekers,” the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said about Palantir’s suit.
A former Google employee’s popular salary spreadsheet
This is not the first time someone has sounded the alarm to Google’s pay gaps. Erica Baker, a former Google employee, conducted a radical salary transparency experiment in 2015 to highlight the pay gaps at Google. Creating an internal spreadsheet, she got 5% of the company’s employees to share their salaries and it directly led to people successfully negotiating for higher salaries.
But it came at a personal cost to her, she alleged.
Before I left, about 5% of former co. had shared their salary on that sheet. People asked for & got equitable pay based on data in the sheet
— Scare-icaJoy (@EricaJoy) July 17, 2015
At Google, one of the employee perks is that peers can send you $150 bonuses for good work. Google employees were sending Baker peer bonuses after she made the spreadsheet, but Baker’s manager blocked all seven peer bonuses, she alleged.
Google disputed Baker’s account.
Baker has moved on and is now a Slack engineer. When news of the Department of Labor’s findings came to light on Friday, she linked to the news and tweeted, “Huh. How bout that.”