On September 14, 2017, three former Google employees filed an equal pay class action lawsuit, just eight months after the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) filed an administrative lawsuit against the company seeking data showing how much it pays its workers. The workers allege Google violates the California Equal Pay Act and other state laws by starting women at lower salaries than men, keeping them in lower-paying job tracks and promoting them less often.
The plaintiffs seek class certification, all wages due under California Labor Code plus 10 percent interest, restitution and damages. They filed the lawsuit on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated current and former female Google employees in California. They do not say how large a class they seek to represent, however they note Google has about 21,000 employees in California.
The case is Kelly Ellis et al v. Google Inc., case number CGC-17-561299, in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Francisco.
Allegations of Equal Pay Violations by Former Employees
The suit was filed on behalf of three women — Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri. The three plaintiffs say they were placed into lower career tracks than their male co-workers and received lower salaries and bonuses because of it.
Ellis was hired in 2010 with four years of experience and placed at Level 3, where new college graduates are often placed. The suit claims that a week later a male colleague with the same amount of experience was hired into Level 4. Ellis also claims she was put on the less-prestigious front-end development team, despite having experience in backend development, which according to the suit, the backend team is higher paid and almost exclusively men.
According to the suit, Wisuri was hired into a Level 2 sales role, while men with similar qualifications entered at Level 3. Men were more often hired into roles that received commission, too, the suit claims. Pease was hired by Google with 10 years of experience as a network engineer. She oversaw a team of “technical” staff, but she wasn't considered to be a “technical” employee herself, thus limiting her pay, according to the lawsuit. The suit claims she was denied the opportunity to transition to the “technical” classification, and after returning from medical leave, was moved out of engineering entirely.
All three employees left Google over the past three years and claim they resigned from Google because of this imbalance in compensation and lack of opportunities for advancement for women.
Equal Pay Investigation by Department of Labor
The DOL's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which is responsible for auditing government contractors to ensure they follow federal equal pay law, filed an administrative lawsuit in January seeking to make Google hand over company pay data. The agency argued Google starts women at lower salaries than men and perpetuates this gap by giving raises proportional to current salaries. The plaintiffs in this case cited comments from the OFCCP auditor that the company's pay data show a gap between men and women with a “one in 100 million chance” of occurring randomly.
In April, the Labor Department's regional director Janette Wipper testified in federal court that Google engaged in “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” Google denied the content of Wipper's testimony, saying it performs annual audits related to pay equity and found no pay gap.
A DOL administrative law judge in July largely denied the OFCCP's data request, calling the agency's argument “legally questionable and factually unsupported at this point.” He left the OFCCP an opening to file another data request after trying to conciliate the dispute with Google, however.
Google representative Gina Scigliano said the company is reviewing the workers' suit and that it “disagree[s] with the central allegations…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,” Scigliano said. “And we have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly.”
California Employment Law
California continues to emphasize equal pay issues, whether its through enforcement of state labor laws or enacting new legislation. Two related bills are pending approval in the legislature–AB 168would prohibit employers from seeking or relying on salary history information concerning applicants; and AB 1209 would require large employers to disclose gender wage differentials for high level employees and board members by job classification or title. This pay information would be made available to the public.
California employers are advised to systematically evaluate their compensation practices and conduct audits as necessary to ensure that equal pay exists for all employees performing substantially similar work, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. Leading California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley will continue to monitor this case and related legislation awaiting Governor Brown's signature. In the meantime, if you have any questions about California's wage and hour laws, contact Kingsley & Kingsley to speak with one of our experienced labor lawyers.