Three former Google employees have filed a class-action suit against the company alleging that it systematically channels female staff members into job levels and ladders with lower pay and fewer opportunities for advancement.
Kelly Ellis, a former Google software engineer, Holly Pease, an ex-Google network manager, and Kelli Wisuri, who was a sales communications specialist and brand "evangelist," filed their complaint yesterday in the Superior Court of California in San Francisco. They are seeking back wages with interest, along with damages and an end to Google's "unfair and unlawful business practices."
Google was already facing a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Labor, which since 2015 has been seeking employment data from the company to gauge its compliance with equal opportunity requirements for federal contractors. Google has to date declined to provide the requested data, saying in a statement that the records being requested are "overbroad in scope, or reveal confidential data."
Disparities Leading to 'Perpetual Unfairness'
According to the complaint filed by Ellis, Pease, and Wisuri, Google's compensation and promotion policies violate the California Equal Pay Act and demonstrate "willful" discrimination by channeling women into lower-paying job classifications and ladders.
The lawsuit contends that all three plaintiffs were placed into lower-level job categories than male employees with comparable backgrounds and skills, and that all three were denied the advancement opportunities given to their male counterparts.
"Google performs internal pay equity analyses on an annual basis," according to the complaint. "Google is also required to maintain records of the wage rates, job classifications, and other terms and conditions of employment of all of its employees throughout California. Google therefore knew or should have known that it paid female employees less than it paid their male counterparts for performing substantially equal or similar work, yet Google took no steps at any time during the Class Period to pay women equally to men as required by the Labor Code."
In a series of tweets posted in May, Ellis said that Google's practices begin with new-hire pay disparity that leads to "perpetual unfairness."
"'Performance' is a factor in compensation, which is subjectively judged by management," Ellis noted in another Twitter thread in April. "On top of that, compensation can be adjusted based on a manager's discretion. Google built what they thought was a reasonable system, but then added something they would hate if it were software: back doors."
Silicon Valley Sexism
The new class-action lawsuit and the Department of Labor complaint are both part of a bigger-picture issue with gender and diversity issues that has emerged for Google in particular and Silicon Valley in general.
In August, for instance, a leaked "manifesto" written by Google software engineer James Damore criticized the company's diversity efforts as "almost like a cult" and cited since-debunked research to justify different workplace practices for men and women. Damore was fired shortly afterward for contributing to a hostile work environment for women and promoting "harmful gender stereotypes."
Another tech giant, Uber, has seen a dramatic shakeup since software engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post in February recounting numerous experiences with sexism and discrimination during her time working at that company. The fallout from that post and other revelations led to the June resignation of founder/CEO Travis Kalanick.
Just this week, the fortunes of financial tech company Social Finance, known as SoFi, also fell into disarray after multiple news reports described the firm as a "toxic" workplace riddled with sexual improproprities, harassment, and discrimination. Those developments led to today's departure of co-founder/CEO Mike Cagney.