Google, in gender-discrimination pay case, tells court it’s too costly to produce salary records

You could chalk it up to extreme penny-pinching.

But for a company that made $17.4 billion in revenue last quarter and employs tens of thousands of people, the claim that spending $100,000 and 500 hours of labor to produce salary data in a federal gender-discrimination case was bound to provoke a dubious reaction.

Google stands accused by the U.S. Department of Labor of systematically underpaying female employees “pretty much across the entire workforce.” The department has launched a lawsuit against the company, alleging Google’s been withholding data in violation of its obligations as a federal contractor.

On May 26, Google officials told a federal administrative court in San Francisco that to satisfy investigators’ demands for wage and employee data, the Mountain View firm would have to spend up to 500 hours of work and $100,000, according to a new report.

Labor department lawyer Ian Eliasoph found Google’s opposition to that expenditure of treasure a little rich.

“Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water,” Eliasoph said, according to the report in The Guardian.

To be sure, it’s not just the $100,000 and 500 work hours Google objected to: company lawyer Lisa Sween said the firm had already put 2,300 hours into the case and spent almost $500,000 to provide information to the government.

“This is obviously a very time-consuming and burdensome project,” Sween said.

She argued that the feds’ demands, which include contact information for workers, were overly broad and unconstitutional.

“Our courts must act to check this abuse of power,” Sween said.

A Google spokesperson said May 28 the company was committed to its “affirmative action obligations” and to improving its workforce diversity. The firm has “worked collaboratively” with federal investigators in the case, and “worked hard” to comply with the feds’ audit, providing hundreds of thousands of records over the past year, including documents related to compensation, the spokesperson said.

However, a “handful” or requests are “overbroad in scope, or reveal confidential data,” the spokesperson said.

“These requests include thousands of employees’ private contact information which we safeguard rigorously.”

In court on Friday, Google’s senior legal operations manager Kristin Zmrhal testified that the demands for data have required engineers, lawyers and workers in multiple departments to conduct complex tasks including building new systems and conducting extensive quality reviews of files, according to The Guardian. Google even had to hire out for help, Zmrhal said.

Labor department lawyer Eliasoph noted that Google has made millions from lucrative government contracts and had made a big deal out of its $150 million in diversity initiatives.

“Google cannot claim,” Eliasoph said, “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.”

Google has strongly denied it pays female employees less than men.

“In late 2016, we performed our most recent analysis across 52 different, major job categories, and found no gender pay gap,” Google’s vice-president of HR wrote in an April blog post.

 

Photo: Technology workers are seen outside a Google office building (Bay Area News Group)

 

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