Google law­suit claims ‘sex­ist cul­ture’

Search gi­ant will re­view the gen­der bias com­plaint, but dis­putes ‘cen­tral al­le­ga­tions’

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Ethan Baron ebaron@ba­yare­anews­group.com

MOUN­TAIN VIEW » Al­ready fight­ing a fed­eral probe into al­leged pay dis­crim­i­na­tion against women, Google on Thurs­day was sued by three fe­male ex- Googlers claim­ing the search gi­ant sys­tem­at­i­cally pays women less than men and has a “sex­ist cul­ture.”

Women are “seg­re­gated” into lower-pay­ing jobs and ca­reer tracks, ham­per­ing their ad­vance­ment, while men with equiv­a­lent qual­i­fi­ca­tions race ahead, the suit claims.

“This is not just about three women try­ing to get money, this is about three coura­geous women step­ping for­ward to change the com­pany, to help women in the fu­ture and to change the Val­ley as a whole,” said the women’s lawyer, James Fin­berg.

The legal case will play out as Sil­i­con Val­ley con­tin­ues to wres­tle with its treat­ment of women, from a lack of di­ver­sity among lead­ers and work­ers at tech com­pa­nies to al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Google, where women make up

only 31 per­cent of the global work­force and hold just 20 per­cent of tech­nol­ogy jobs, is fight­ing the U.S. De­part­ment of La­bor in court, seek­ing to with­hold salary data it ar­gues is pri­vate but that the de­part­ment is de­mand­ing for its probe into al­leged pay dis­crim­i­na­tion against women.

Thurs­day’s legal ac­tion by the three em­ploy­ees seeks class-ac­tion status to cover all women em­ployed by the Moun­tain View search gi­ant in the past four years.

“It was time to stand up and say, ‘ This isn’t OK, this isn’t fair, and no more,’ ” said plain­tiff Kelly El­lis. “It re­ally feels like a good time to be bring­ing this law­suit, be­cause peo­ple are wak­ing up to the fact that sex­ism is per­va­sive and real in Sil­i­con Val­ley and in the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try.”

Fin­berg said Thurs­day that his legal team would rely heav­ily on tes­ti­mony from U. S. De­part­ment of La­bor hear­ings, which showed “sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant (com­pen­sa­tion) dis­par­i­ties ad­verse to women across the board.”

The la­bor de­part­ment has called pay dis­crim­i­na­tion against women at Google “ex­treme.” Google’s vice-president of HR, Eileen Naughton, has coun­tered that the firm’s own an­nual anal­y­sis has shown “no gen­der pay gap.”

Google will re­view the suit in de­tail, but dis­agrees with the “cen­tral al­le­ga­tions,” com­pany spokes­woman Gina Scigliano said Thurs­day.

“We work re­ally hard to cre­ate a great work­place for ev­ery­one, and to give ev­ery­one the chance to thrive here,” Scigliano said. “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.

“And we have ex­ten­sive sys­tems in place to en­sure that we pay fairly. But on all these top­ics, if we ever see in­di­vid­ual dis­crep­an­cies or prob­lems, we work to fix them,” Scigliano said.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, filed Thurs­day in Su­pe­rior Court in San Fran­cisco, Google con­tin­ues to “chan­nel and seg­re­gate” women into lower com­pen­sa­tion lev­els and “less-fa­vor­able” ca­reer tracks. Fewer women than men are pro­moted, and those pro­mo­tions come more slowly, the suit claims.

“The net re­sult of this sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion is that Google pays women less than men for com­pa­ra­ble work,” the suit al­leges.

The is­sues ad­dressed in the suit ap­ply across most of the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try, said Adri­ana Gas­coigne, CEO of the non-profit Girls In Tech.

“There is a sys­temic prob­lem where women are get­ting paid less than their male coun­ter­parts for do- ing the same ex­act job, be­cause em­ploy­ers can get away with it,” Gas­coigne said. “I’m glad that these women are com­ing for­ward and hold­ing this tech gi­ant ac­count­able be­cause it needs to hap­pen in or­der to cre­ate change.”

Fin­berg said about 90 women have ap­proached his firm about pay dis­crim­i­na­tion at Google. Other ev­i­dence to be brought for­ward against the firm in­cludes a New York Times re­port on em­ployee com­pen­sa­tion that was based on a for­mer em­ployee’s data set, Fin­berg said. That re­port sug­gested that at most salary lev­els, women at Google re­ceive lower pay and smaller bonuses than men. Google has said that its own anal­y­sis, which in­cluded lo­ca­tion, ten­ure, job role, level and per­for­mance, showed women made 99.7 cents for every dol­lar a man made, a sta­tis­ti­cally neg­li­gi­ble dif­fer­ence.

El­lis said in the law­suit that she started at Google as a soft­ware en­gi­neer in May 2010 but quit about four years later, “be­cause of the sex­ist cul­ture at Google.” Com­ing into the job, she was put at “Level 3” com­pen­sa­tion, which is or­di­nar­ily for soft­ware en­gi­neers fresh out of col­lege, de­spite her four years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, the suit claims. Men with equal or weaker qual­i­fi­ca­tions were placed in the higher-pay­ing “Level 4,” the suit al­leges.

El­lis was even­tu­ally pro­moted to Level 4, “but by that time, her male coun­ter­parts were on their way to even higher lev­els and com­pen­sa­tion for sim­i­lar work, en­sur­ing that she could never catch up on the gen­der pay gap,” ac­cord­ing to the suit.

An­other plain­tiff, Holly Pease, was hired in 2005 as a cor­po­rate net­work man­ager, with a decade-long his­tory as a net­work en­gi­neer, the suit says. She man­aged about 50 soft­ware en­gi­neers and an­a­lysts, most of them on “tech­ni­cal” job tracks, but she was clas­si­fied into the “non-techni- cal” busi­ness-sys­tems track, where salary, bonuses, raises and com­pany eq­uity are lower, the suit claims.

The third plain­tiff, Kelli Wisuri, ar­rived at the com­pany in Oc­to­ber 2012 when Google bought the com­pany where she worked. She had more than two years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in sales, but was placed in the low­est com­pen­sa­tion level for full-time, per­ma­nent work­ers — Level 2 — even though men with equiv­a­lent qual­i­fi­ca­tions would start at Level 3 or higher, the suit says.

Wisuri quit in Jan­uary 2015, she says in the suit, “due to the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vance­ment for women at Google.”

The suit seeks un­spec­i­fied “wages due” and dam­ages, plus a share of Google prof­its from “its un­law­ful and/or un­fair busi­ness prac­tices.” It also de­mands Google stop pay­ing women less than men for equiv­a­lent work.

GARY REYES — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Sun­dar Pichai is CEO at Google, where three for­mer em­ploy­ees have brought a law­suit claim­ing pay dis­crim­i­na­tion against women.

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