Former Employees Sue Google, Alleging Gender Discrimination

Former Employees Sue Google, Alleging Gender Discrimination

Three women have filed a lawsuit against Google, their former employer, in which they accuse the tech giant of systematically discriminating against women in pay and career development, and their lawyer is seeking class action status for the claim, the Associated Press reported on Thursday:

The suit, led by lawyer James Finberg of Altshuler Berzon LLP, is on behalf of three women — Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease and Kelli Wisuri — who all quit after being put on career tracks that they claimed would pay them less than their male counterparts. The suit aims to represent thousands of Google employees in California and seeks lost wages and a slice of Google’s profits.

“I have come forward to correct a pervasive problem of gender bias at Google,” Ellis said in a statement. She says she quit Google in 2014 after male engineers with similar experience were hired to higher-paying job levels and she was denied a promotion despite excellent performance reviews. “It is time to stop ignoring these issues in tech.”

The lawsuit, which has been in the works since June, follows an investigation by the US Labor Department that claimed to find “systemic compensation disparities against women” throughout the company. Google has strongly disputed the department’s allegations, insisting that it has no gender pay gap and publishing its pay methodology in April in an effort to refute them, and a judge ruled that the company did not have to hand over all the detailed pay data the government had demanded. Nonetheless, Finberg has said the suit is based partly on the Labor Department’s analysis.

Delving deeper into the details of the lawsuit at the Guardian, Sam Levin explains that the plaintiffs are alleging not only that Google is paying women less than men for “substantially similar work,” but furthermore that women are systematically denied promotions and career opportunities and “segregated” into lower-paying jobs. Ellis’s description of her experience at the company purports to illustrate this phenomenon:

When Ellis was hired in 2010 as a software engineer for Google Photos, the company placed her into a “Level 3” position typically assigned to new college graduates, according to the suit. Several weeks later, Google hired a male software engineer, who graduated the same year as Ellis, into a “Level 4” position on her team, the complaint said. Level 4 engineers “receive substantially higher salary and opportunities for bonuses, raises, and equity”, her lawyers wrote. …

[O]ther male software engineers who were less qualified than Ellis or at the same level were promoted into Level 4 and higher positions, according to the suit. Google initially denied Ellis a promotion, despite “excellent performance reviews”, claiming she hadn’t been at the company long enough, the suit said. By the time she advanced, she said, she was far behind her male counterparts who had better opportunities from the start.

Ellis also tells Wired that Google’s response to the Labor Department’s inquiry was part of what motivated her to take legal action:

“There’s been a lot of lip service, and more recently since the Department of Labor investigation came out there’s been a denial, which made me realize that this isn’t going to get fixed unless we make them fix it,” Ellis says.

Ellis says she did not discuss her career-ladder placement during her four years at Google. It was both taboo and daunting to reveal that she was on the same level as a man with no work experience. “There’s no official way to appeal that and I didn’t really see women talking about these issues as a systemic thing,” she says.

Other women say they have had different experiences at Google. Former executive Kim Scott, for instance, tells Wired that “she did not experience or see any evidence of pay discrimination” at Google and does not believe the lawsuit will affect the company’s ability to attract women employees.

The lawsuit’s focus on unequal opportunities for promotion and advancement highlight the growing awareness of how the “promotion gap” contributes to disparities in pay between men and women. This is why companies can close their role-to-role pay gaps and still have female employees perceiving and experiencing pay discrimination. In our latest pay equity research at CEB (now Gartner), we find that over 70 percent of organizations identify hiring decisions, including pay setting, and promotion decisions as among the practices contributing to gender pay gaps.

CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read our full study on addressing pay equity here.