[US] US department of Labor accuses Google of 'extreme' gender pay discrimination

The allegations emerged during a federal court hearing seeking to compel the search engine giant to hand over salary data and other documents to check it is in compliance with equal opportunity legislation.

Google has been accused of violating US federal employment laws by paying its female employees significantly less than their male counterparts – despite having claimed earlier in the year to have completely closed its gender pay gap around the world.

The allegations against it emerged during a federal court hearing relating to a lawsuit filed by the Department of Labor (DoL) against the search engine giant in January, seeking to compel it to hand over salary data and other documents such as job history and contact details to the government.

Because Google is a federal contractor, it is required to allow the DoL to inspect and copy records and information relating to its compliance with equal opportunity legislation. But the DoL’s lawsuit attested the company repeatedly turned down requests to do so last year, which was in breach of its contractual obligations.

After the suit was filed originally, Google claimed that it had provided “hundreds of thousands of records” to the government and that the requests outlined in the complaint were “overbroad”, revealed confidential information or violated employees’ privacy.

But Janette Wipper, a DoL regional director, has now testified that the agency found “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce”.

The pay disparities were discovered in a 2015 salary snapshot and led to officials requesting earlier compensation data and to interview employees confidentially in order to understand the cause of the problem.

Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, told the Guardian newspaper: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point, the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters. The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”

But Lisa Barnett Sween, one of Google’s lawyers, testified that the DoL’s request was simply a “fishing expedition that has absolutely no relevance to the compliance review” and amounted to an unconstitutional violation of the company’s fourth amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches.

The issue appears to centre on the use of the term “same job” to determine whether a gender pay gap exists. Google is using a strict definition that compares only jobs of the same name, while the DoL is using a looser ‘comparable job’ definition.