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Women sue Google for “systematic” pay discrimination

by Noah Kulwin
Sep 14 2017, 5:18pm

Ex-Google employees on Thursday filed suit against the tech giant for systematically underpaying women, the latest development in Silicon Valley’s ongoing gender discrimination crisis.

Three women — Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri — allege that Google knowingly discriminates against female employees when it comes to compensation, violating multiple California laws, including the California Equal Pay Act. They cite evidence from a Labor Department inquiry of Google, in which investigators found “six to seven standard deviations between pay for men and women in nearly every job classification in 2015,” which indicates a “one in a 100 million chance that the disparity is occurring randomly.”

The complaint alleges that Google’s organizational structure offers better compensation for employees in “technical”-track positions, in which men are offered jobs and promotions more frequently than women. The plaintiffs are being represented by two firms — Altshuler Berzon and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein — the latter of which served as lead counsel in the successful $415 million Silicon Valley wage-fixing class-action case that was settled in 2014.

“Google has channeled, and segregated, and continues to channel and segregate, women on the basis of their sex into lower compensation levels and into less-compensated job ladders and levels,” says the class-action complaint, officially filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday and embedded in full below.

Company spokesperson Gina Scigliano said in a statement responding to the lawsuit 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,” Scigliano said. “And we have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly.”

The Labor Department investigation originated from a 2015 audit of Google because of its work as a federal government contractor. The government has attempted to force Google to turn over 15 years of employee information in order to better determine the extent of gendered pay disparities. Google denied the Labor Department’s findings and declined to provide the requested information, which prompted a Labor Department lawsuit earlier this year; an administrative law judge sided with Google in a July hearing.

A department official testified in court in April that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs found “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.”

Across federal and state governments, officials and lawmakers have begun taking a closer look at Silicon Valley corporate culture as scandals emerge across the industry, at companies such as Uber and Amazon. The Department of Labor filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the controversial data analytics company Palantir late last year, and California legislators are considering a bill that takes aim at sexual harassment by venture capital investors.

Just this week, the multibillion-dollar lending startup SoFi pushed out its CEO as the New York Times revealed allegations of widespread sexual misconduct within the company’s executive ranks.

“I have come forward to correct a pervasive problem of gender bias at Google,” said Kelly Ellis, one of the plaintiffs in the Google class-action. “It is time to stop ignoring these issues in tech.”

You can read the full complaint below: