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Google Dodges Women’s Gender-Bias Class Action

A California judge has dismissed with leave to amend a gender-bias class action against Google, ruling the women hadn't sufficiently shown they performed the same work as their male counterparts for less pay.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A California judge has dismissed with leave to amend a gender-bias class action against Google, ruling the women hadn't sufficiently shown they performed the same work as their male counterparts for less pay.

Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease and Kelly Wisuri sued in San Francisco County Superior Court in September, claiming Google violates California’s Equal Pay Act and other state labor laws by systematically paying them lower wages for the same jobs as their male counterparts.

The women, who worked as a software engineer, former manager and former communications specialist, respectively, also accused Google of keeping women partitioned in compensation levels with lower ceilings and routinely promoting fewer women and at slower rates than men.

In an order upholding Google’s motion to dismiss issued Dec. 4, Judge Mary Wiss said the women hadn’t offered sufficient facts to support a class of all women who work for Google in California.

Wiss also said Ellis, the software engineer, “failed to provide sufficient factual allegations demonstrating she performed work that was ‘equal’ to those performed by her male counterparts.”

Wisuri, the communications specialist and onetime “Google Brand Evangelist,” likewise failed to meet the equal work standard, Wiss said.

Gina Scigliano, senior manager of corporate communications at Google, said in a statement, “As we said before, we work really hard to create a great workplace for everyone, and to give everyone the chance to thrive here. If we ever see individual discrepancies or problems, we work to fix them.”

The dismissal comes as Google faces investigation into possible gender discrimination in its hiring practices by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The probe began after a statistical regression analysis performed by the Labor Department Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Because Google is a federal contractor, it is required to submit to such audits.

In a post on its blog earlier this year, Eileen Naughton, Google’s vice president of “People Operations,” rigorously defended the company. She wrote Google would comply with an administrative law judge’s order to turn over information on positions and pay going back 15 years, but added: “We were concerned that these requests went beyond the scope of what was relevant to this specific audit, and posed unnecessary risks to employees’ privacy.

“Moreover, our own annual analysis shows no gender pay gap at Google,” Naughton continued. “We invest a lot in our efforts to create a fair and inclusive environment for all our employees – across all genders and races.”

Plaintiff Ellis was hired by Google in 2010 as a software engineer on the Google Photos team. Despite four years of experience, she was hired as a Level 3 engineer – a level reserved for recent college graduates.

That same year, a male counterpart was hired for a similar position on the same team. Having graduated the same year as Ellis and with similar work experience he was hired as a Level 4 engineer, according to the complaint.

Pease says she was hired as a corporate network manager in 2005. She arrived at the company with 10 years of experience as a network engineer, and became data warehouse manager shortly after being hired.

Despite managing engineering teams that developed software applications, data warehouses, services and data analytics, Pease says she was kept on a nontechnical job ladder, meaning lower salary compensation and less room for upward mobility throughout the company.

Wisuri says she joined Google’s sales division in 2012, after tech giant acquired the company she worked for.

At the time of the acquisition, Google placed Wisuri at a Level 2 sales position despite her 2 1/2 years of experience in the sales department, the lawsuit says.

Wiss gave the women 30 days to file an amended complaint only on behalf of those who experienced discrimination.

Their attorney, James Finberg of Altshuler Berzon in San Francisco, vowed to address Wiss’ concerns.

"We will file an amended complaint by Jan. 3 that addresses the court's concerns and makes clear that Google violates the California Equal Pay Act throughout California and throughout the class period by paying women less than men for substantially equal work in nearly every job classification,” Finberg said in an email.

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