Google Must Turn Over Some Data in Gender-Bias Probe

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – An administrative law judge has ruled that Google must turn over some salary details of its employees to the U.S. Department of Labor, which is investigating whether the company discriminates against female workers by paying them less than their male counterparts.

However, Administrative Law Judge Steven Berlin stopped short of ordering Google to give the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) all of the employee-compensation data it wants, ruling in a provisional order issued Friday that the department’s demands are too broad and could compromise employee privacy.

“As OFCCP’s salary history, job history, and related requests exceed even the considerable deference owed OFCCP on a determination of relevance, and as they create an unreasonable burden on Google and its employees, OFCCP will have to do more … if Google is to be ordered to provide this data,” Berlin wrote in the 43-page ruling.

Google had previously given the Labor Department data on roughly 21,000 employees who were working at its Mountain View headquarters as of Sept. 1, 2015, including information on gender, base salaries and salary adjustments, as part of a routine audit.

After analyzing the data, OFCCP’s regional director Janette Wipper testified the department had found “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” So investigators requested the same data from Google for Sept. 1, 2014, along with salary and job histories and contact information for 25,000 employees.

The Labor Department says that given the pay disparity revealed by the September 2015 data, it needs data for a second point in time to determine whether the disparity was ongoing over a two-year review period. It also wants data going back 15 years so that it can look at every decision that impacted pay.

The department theorizes that because women have been found to be less successful at negotiating starting pay than men, and because Google negotiates starting pay, women generally enter Google’s workforce with lower pay than men and lag behind men throughout their careers since raises are based on existing pay rates.

Berlin agreed Friday that the Labor Department should be able to interview Google employees to get a sense of whether they felt they were being compensated fairly. But he ruled that forcing Google to produce contact information for 25,000 employees was going too far, raising concerns that the information could become vulnerable to hacking once in the department’s possession.

Instead, he ordered Google to produce contact information for 8,000 employees of the department’s choosing.

“If this wasn’t the largest audit in OFCCP’s region and one of the largest OFCCP has done nationally, OFCCP routinely would be satisfied with contact information for far fewer than 25,000 people,” Berlin wrote. “Together, this should give OFCCP ability to contact – confidentially and without Google’s knowledge – all employees whom OFCCP believes are likely to have information relevant to the investigation.”

In making his decision, Berlin criticized the Labor Department’s theory that potential gender-based pay disparities at Google stem from negotiated pay. The judge said the way Google purportedly negotiates starting pay doesn’t comport with how negotiations are done at most companies, noting that Google only increases offers when an applicant has a higher competing offer or a higher current wage. And for applicants just out of school, the company doesn’t negotiate starting pay at all,” Berlin said.

“Despite having several investigators interview more than 20 Google executives and managers over two days and having reviewed over a million compensation-related data points and many hundreds of thousands of documents, OFCCP offered nothing credible or reliable to show that its theory about negotiating starting salaries is based in the Google context on anything more than speculation,” he wrote.

Google’s head of Human Resources Eileen Naughton disputed the Labor Department’s findings Monday.

“Our own annual analysis shows no gender pay gap at Google,” she said in a statement. “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 Labor Department did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

 

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