For years, Google employees have whispered about pay discrepancies at the tech giant. Now, they're speaking more loudly than ever — and in court.
This afternoon, a lawyer representing three former Google employees — Kelly Ellis (the lead plaintiff), Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri — filed a class-action lawsuit "accusing the technology company of denying promotions and career opportunities to qualified women who are 'segregated' into lower-paying jobs," The Guardian reports.
Ellis, Pease, and Wisuri all worked at Google at some point between 2005 and 2016. The women shared similar stories with The Guardian of joining the company in good standing and doing well, if not exceeding expectations, before realising that their contributions were being overlooked, or going unnoticed and uncompensated, compared to work of their male colleagues.
"Male software engineers who were less qualified than Ellis or at the same level were promoted into Level 4 and higher positions, according to the suit," The Guardian reports. "Google initially denied Ellis a promotion, despite 'excellent performance reviews', claiming she hadn't been at the company long enough, the suit said. By the time she advanced, she said she was far behind her male counterparts who had better opportunities from the start."
Pease also told The Guardian that she was denied a promotion into a technical position (which traditionally comes with much greater compensation) despite having 10 years of experience as a network engineer prior to joining Google. Wisuri, who joined the company's sales department in 2012, left in 2015 after being placed into the "lowest level available to permanent, full-time employees," despite seeing men with "comparable qualifications" start at higher levels.
Pease says Google "claimed she 'lacked technical ability,'" but the allegations raise the question of whether the majority of women at Google who are currently in, aim to transition into, or aspire to more advanced technical and leadership roles are vastly under-qualified compared to their male counterparts.
During a Department of Labor (DOL) investigation into alleged employment violations at Google earlier this years, Janet Herold, a regional solicitor for the DOL told The Guardian that "the government's analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry." That statement comes after research showing Google's numbers have actually improved in recent years.
"Men account for 80% of tech jobs at Google, down from 83% in 2014 when the company first released diversity data," the Los Angeles Times reported in August. "Men hold 75% of leadership positions today, down from 79% three years ago."
In response to the lawsuit, Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano told Refinery29 that the company disagrees with the allegations.
"We work really hard to create a great workplace for everyone, and to give everyone the chance to thrive here. In relation to this particular lawsuit, we'll review it in detail, but we disagree with the central allegations," Scigliano wrote in an email. "Job levels and promotions are determined through rigorous hiring and promotion committees, and must pass multiple levels of review, including checks to make sure there is no gender bias in these decisions. And we have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly. But on all these topics, if we ever see individual discrepancies or problems, we work to fix them, because Google has always sought to be a great employer, for every one of our employees."
Individual employees are also finding covert ways to address pay discrepancies. Earlier this month, The New York Times published data from a spreadsheet it obtained documenting 2017 salary and bonus information from nearly 1,200 Google employees in the U.S., about 2% of the company's global work force. Although the data is far from a complete picture, analysis of pay data on the spreadsheet found that female employees at Google are paid less than men at most job levels at the company.
Ex-Googler Erica Baker started the spreadsheet shared by The Times in 2015. Baker, a senior engineering manager at Patreon and a member of the board of director for Girl Develop It, has repeatedly spoken out about diversity and inclusion in tech, and disparities in the field when it comes to recognizing — in pay and in promotion — underrepresented groups in technology.
"Fighting for justice and fairness inside Google doesn't go over well," Baker tweeted. "Salary sharing is only 1 example."
Now that more employees are speaking out on the record inequalities they say they face at Google, it may not be much longer before the tech company is forced to provide answers on a wider, less piecemeal scale.