Female employees to file lawsuit against Google for sexism and pay gap

Published August 9, 2017
More than 60 current and former Google employees allege the tech giant of sexism and pay disparities against women. —AFP/File
More than 60 current and former Google employees allege the tech giant of sexism and pay disparities against women. —AFP/File

Days after firing an employee for defending the gender-gap in Silicon Valley tech jobs as a matter of biology, it emerged that Google is going to face a lawsuit under allegations of sexism and pay disparities against women, the Guardian reported on Wednesday.

"More than 60 current and former Google employees are considering bringing a class-action lawsuit alleging sexism and pay disparities against women, as the technology giant wrestles with a deepening crisis over alleged discrimination," said the report.

The female employees of the tech giant contend that they have earned less than men at Google despite equal qualifications and comparable positions, the report quoted James Finberg, the civil rights attorney working on the possible legal action on behalf of the employees, as saying.

Others have struggled in other ways to advance their careers at Google due to a “culture that is hostile to women”, he was quoted.

According to the report, a class-action gender discrimination suit would build on a case brought by the United States Department of Labor, which is arguing that Google systematically underpays women and recently convinced a judge to force the company to hand over a portion of the company’s salary records. Google is vehemently denying that its salaries are discriminatory.

Finberg claimed that he had interviewed around half of the 60 women who may be part of his lawsuit and added that their testimony indicated there are clear disparities and prejudices that hurt women at the Mountain View company.

“They are concerned that women are channelled to levels and positions that pay less than men with similar education and experience,” the report quoted Finberg as saying.

Despite similar positions and qualifications, some women said they make less than male counterparts in salaries, bonuses, and stock options, he added.

He claims that several women he interviewed have said they make around $40,000 less than male colleagues doing the same work, with one woman saying she makes two-thirds of a male peer’s salary.

Finberg said that about half of the more than 60 women who have reached out to the attorney in the last three weeks still work for Google. Among others, more than a dozen claimed that discrimination played a role in their decision to leave the company.

Finberg argued that when men get higher compensation in the form of base salary and stocks “the big initial disparity turns into a larger and larger disparity every year”.

He said he hoped a class-action case could have a ripple effect in the industry. “Google is not alone in Silicon Valley,” he said. “The goal of the case is to not only get Google to change its practices but to encourage other Silicon Valley companies to change their pay practices as well,” he added.

Narrating the accounts of the female workers, the report quoted a former senior manager who recently left Google, as saying that she repeatedly learned of men at the same level as her earning tens of thousands of dollars more than her, and in one case, she said she had a male employee join her team with a higher salary despite the fact that she was his superior.

“It’s demoralising,” she said while requesting anonymity for fear of retribution. “There’s something subconsciously that happens where you do start to question the value that you’re adding to the company,” she added.

The manager said that dealing with frequent sexism in the workplace and helping other women navigate the discrimination they were facing took a toll on her and contributed to her decision to quit. “After a while, it just became exhausting,” she said. “It takes emotional energy that builds up over time.”

“I felt like I wasn’t playing the game in the ‘boys club’ environment,” another woman who worked for two years as a user experience designer and recently left Google told the Guardian.

She claimed she regularly dealt with sexist remarks, such as comments about her looks, and that she felt it was discriminatory when she was denied a promotion despite her achievements and large workload.

“I was watching male co-workers progress at a faster rate than myself. It was really disturbing,” said the designer, who also requested anonymity.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the pending class-action. However, in reference to the women considering legal action, the spokesperson said: “Sixty people is a really small sample size.”

"There are always going to be differences in salary based on location, role, and performance, but the process is blind to gender,” he claimed.

The women’s stories bolster the claims of US labour department officials, who have said that a preliminary analysis found that women face “extreme” pay discrimination across the company and have recently raised concerns that Google’s strict confidentiality agreements are discouraging employees from speaking up.

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