Is Google Too Big To Comply With Government Request For Wage Data?

Written by Dana Sanchez

In the tech industry’s highest-profile government trial to date over wage gap and gender discrimination, Google argued on Friday that it’s too expensive and difficult to produce salary records requested by the  U.S. Department of Labor.

Google has been accused of “extreme” gender pay discrimination by the U.S. Labor Department. As a federal contractor, Google must comply with equal opportunity laws and allow investigators to review records, The Guardian reported.

Google denies it underpays women, and claims it has closed the gender gap globally. Google has also argued that the government’s data request would violate the privacy of employees and Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The government filed a lawsuit against Google in January, accusing the tech company of violating federal laws by refusing to provide salary history and contact information on employees as part of a government audit.

One of the most profitable companies in the U.S., Google earns almost $28 billion in annual income. Company officials testified in federal court that Google would have to spend up to 500 hours of work and $100,000 to comply with investigators’ ongoing demands for wage data.

The government believes the data will help explain why Google appears to be systematically discriminating against women.

The Labor Department’s lawsuit is one of several brought against Silicon Valley companies over alleged discrimination, The Hill reported. In January, the agency sued Oracle for salary discrimination against women, African Americans and Asians. In September, the U.S. agency sued Palantir for alleged discrimination against Asian job applicants.

Google has consistently earned millions of dollars in lucrative government contracts and has recently announced “with great public fanfare” that it invested $150 million in diversity initiatives, said Department of Labor attorney Ian Eliasoph, according to The Guardian.

Now Google is trying to present itself as “too big to comply,” Eliasoph said. It should not be able to skirt anti-discrimination laws just because it is large and has a complex compensation model, he said:

“Google cannot claim … that it now has no money to comply with a federal agency seeking to ensure compliance with equal opportunity laws on behalf of the public.”

Earlier this month, Google tried unsuccessfully to have the case dismissed, arguing that a Department of Labor official may have violated ethics rules by talking to the Guardian about the federal investigation.

“This is obviously a very time-consuming and burdensome project,” said Google attorney Lisa Barnett Sween, claiming that the company has already worked 2,300 hours at a cost of nearly $500,000 to partially comply with the government’s demands. The demands are broad and unconstitutional, Sween said. “Our courts must act to check this abuse of power.”

Women earn 79 cents for each dollar a man is paid, Cornell professors Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn found in a January 2016 study. Even after adjusting for job type, industry, experience, location and education, the gap is 92 cents for each dollar.

There is no difference between what women and men are paid at Google, said Laszlo Bock, then-senior vice president of people operations at Google, in an April 2016 Washington Post blog. At least not “where we control for the type of job, education, experience, location, etc.,” Bock said:

Ensuring women and men are paid equally for equal work is something companies should and can fix today, with two straightforward steps.

First, avoid anchoring to someone’s current salary. Instead, pay for what the job is worth by setting a pay target for each job when hiring and promoting. At Google, recruiters typically ask about salary as a data point, but neither they nor hiring managers make decisions about pay. Instead, offers are determined by our “people operations” team, which provides a bulwark of objectivity and fairness. If a candidate’s current pay is below our target for that job, we simply ignore the prior salary and offer our target.

The persistence of an unexplained gender wage gap suggests, but does not prove, that labor market discrimination continues to contribute to the gender wage gap, according to Cornell professors Blau and Kahn.


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