On Friday, Judge Steven Berlin ruled that the Labor Department could not have access to 21,000 Google employees’ contact information, but did say that the company must hand over a snapshot of their salary data from 2014 and contact info for 8,000 employees. Is this victory or defeat?
The Labor Department’s investigation into the alleged Google wage gap was instigated after a routine contract audit revealed “extreme” gender discrimination in terms of pay, according to the Guardian. Google’s lawyers successfully argued that handing over additional info on 21,000 employees was an overreach that endangered people’s privacy, as the government has been susceptible to hacking. They were less successful in their complaint that complying with the department’s request would take 500 hours and cost the company $100,000:
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 world’s 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.
On a more skeptical note, the Washington Post writes that the DoL has “lost the battle” with the tech giant, since Berlin has insisted that if the department wants to continue its investigations with interviews, it must narrow its focus:
The Labor Department should move more slowly and deliberately with its investigation, Berlin added, rather than demanding data in bulk while offering “nothing credible or reliable to show that its theory [... is] anything more than speculation.”
As for Google, company reps insist there is no wage gap and that they have been remarkably transparent throughout the process, though the company reportedly tried to restrict press access during the hearing. In a blog post on Sunday, Google’s vice president of people operations, Eileen Naughton, wrote the judge validated the company’s positive reputation for its diversity efforts:
We invest a lot in our efforts to create a fair and inclusive environment for all our employees—across all genders and races. The judge acknowledged this, saying: “I would think that the Department would laud government contractors that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on diversity initiatives, not use those voluntary efforts against these companies.”
While we’re pleased with Friday’s recommended decision, we remain committed to treating, and paying, people fairly and without bias with regard to factors like gender or race. We are proud of our practices and leadership in this area, and we look forward to working constructively with OFCCP, as we complete this review and in the future.
The audit continues, and what the DoL discovers will reveal if Google is the rare utopia of a tech company without gender discrimination it claims to be.