Google told to hand over salary details in gender equality court battle
Judge rules tech giant must give US federal department snapshot of its 2014 pay records as part of pay discrimination case
A judge has ordered Google to hand over salary records to the government in an ongoing investigation by the US Department of Labor, which has accused the technology corporation of systematically discriminating against women.
Google must provide the federal government with a 2014 snapshot of the data, along with contact information for thousands of employees for possible interviews, according to a ruling made public on Sunday.
Judge Steve Berlin, however, also denied part of the governments request for records and partially sided with Google, which had argued the departments demands were overly broad and could violate employee privacy.
The limited records Google must release could help the Department of Labor (DoL) build a formal pay discrimination case against the company, which has repeatedly refused to disclose key data in what has become one of the most high-profile court battles to date regarding wage inequality in Silicon Valley. The department which had argued that additional records would help explain the extreme gender pay gap it uncovered in an initial audit said in a statement the decision vindicates its vigorous enforcement efforts.
The provisional order, written Friday, comes at a time of growing scrutiny of gender discrimination and sexual harassment across the tech industry, including a major scandal at Uber and a string of recent controversies involving prominent venture capitalists.
The DoL first publicly accused Google of systemic compensation disparities in April, testifying in a hearing that its preliminary investigation found that women across a wide range of positions at the Mountain View campus were paid less than men.
Berlins decision resolves a more narrow court battle stemming from a DoL lawsuit filed against Google in January, which accused the corporation of violating federal laws in its refusal to turn over salary history and employee contact information. Google has contracts with the federal government, which means it is obliged to comply with equal opportunity laws and has to allow the DoL to review certain internal records.
Google originally provided a 2015 snapshot of salaries. The DoL subsequently requested compensation history and contact information for employees so it could conduct confidential interviews, but Google argued the demands violated fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
Berlins ruling, which is a recommended order that still has to be finalized, said Google must provide the comparable 2014 snapshot, though he said the DoLs demands for contact information for more than 25,000 workers was over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome, and insufficiently focused.
Instead, Google has to provide personal information for up to 8,000 employees the DoL selects, the ruling said. Berlin also denied the departments broader request for salary and job history data, saying the demands create an unreasonable burden on Google and its employees.
The departments regional solicitor Janet Herold praised the decision in a statement, saying, The courts decision vindicates [DoL]s vigorous enforcement of the disclosure and anti-discrimination obligations federal contractors voluntarily accept in exchange for taxpayer funds. Contractors will be held to their promise to let [DoL] fully audit their employment practices.
Google has vehemently denied that it discriminates against women, publicly claiming that it has closed its gender pay gap globally. In a Sunday blogpost, Google said it was pleased with the decision and would comply with the order, providing the much more limited data set of information.
In a final hearing last month, Google argued it was financially burdensome and logistically challenging to compile and hand over the salary records the DoL had requested, saying it would have to spend up to 500 hours and $100,000 to comply with the ongoing demands. The defense earned a strong rebuke from the DoL and others in the industry who noted Google has touted its $150m diversity efforts and has a nearly $28bn annual income as one of the worlds wealthiest companies, building some of the most advanced technology.
Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water, DoL attorney Ian Eliasoph said in his closing arguments last month.
Google has faced repeated criticism for its lack of transparency in the dispute. The companys lawyers unsuccessfully lobbied to get the case thrown out last month, arguing that a DoL official may have violated ethics rules by talking to the Guardian about the federal investigation.
In that interview, Herold said the data suggested that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry. Google also tried to restrict press access during one hearing.
Google is one of many tech companies that has battled allegations of discrimination and sexism in recent months, including Tesla, Palantir, Oracle and smaller startups across Silicon Valley.
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