Google told to hand over salary details in gender equality court battle

Judge rules tech giant must give US federal department snapshot of its 2014 pay records as part of pay discrimination case

A judge has ordered Google to hand over salary records to the government in an ongoing investigation by the US Department of Labor, which has accused the technology corporation of systematically discriminating against women.

Google must provide the federal government with a 2014 snapshot of the data, along with contact information for thousands of employees for possible interviews, according to a ruling made publicly available on Sunday.

Judge Steve Berlin, however, also denied part of the governments request for records and partially sided with Google, which had argued government departments demands were overly broad and could infringe employee privacy.

The limited records Google must release could help the Department of Labor( DoL) build a formal pay discrimination lawsuit against the company, which has repeatedly refused to disclose key data in what has become one of the most high-profile tribunal combats to date regarding wage inequality in Silicon Valley. The department which have asserted that additional records would help explain the extreme gender pay gap it uncovered in an initial audit said in a statement the decision vindicates its vigorous enforcement efforts.

The provisional order, written Friday, arrives at a time of growing scrutiny of gender discrimination and sexual harassment across the tech industry, including a major scandal at Uber and a string of recent controversies involving prominent venture capitalists.

The DoL first publicly accused Google of systemic compensation disparities in April, testifying in a hearing that its preliminary investigation found that girls across a wide range of positions at the Mountain View campus were paid less than men.

Berlins decision resolves a more narrow tribunal combat stemming from a DoL lawsuit filed against Google in January, which accused the corporation of infringing federal statutes in its refusal to turn over salary history and employee contact information. Google has contracts with the federal government, which entails it is obliged to comply with equal opportunity laws and has to allow the DoL to review certain internal records.

Google originally a 2015 snapshot of salaries. The DoL subsequently requested compensation history and contact information for employees so it could conduct confidential interviews, but Google argued the demands violated fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Berlins ruling, which is a recommended order that still has to be finalized, said Google must provide the comparable 2014 snapshot, though he said the DoLs demands for contact information for more than 25,000 workers was over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome, and insufficiently focused.

Instead, Google has to provide personal information for up to 8,000 employees the DoL selects, the ruling told. Berlin also denied the departments broader request for wage and task history data, telling the demands create an unreasonable burden on Google and its employees.

The departments regional attorney Janet Herold praised government decisions in a statement, saying, The courts decision vindicates[ DoL] s vigorous enforcement of the disclosure and anti-discrimination obligations federal contractors voluntarily accept in return for taxpayer funds. Contractors will be held to their promise to let[ DoL] fully audit the employment opportunities practices.

Google has vehemently denied that it discriminates against women, publicly claiming that it has closed its gender pay gap globally. In a Sunday blogpost, Google said it was pleased with the decision and would comply with the order, providing the much more limited data set of information.

In a final hearing last month, Google argued it was financially burdensome and logistically challenging to compile and hand over the salary records the DoL had requested, saying it would have to spend up to 500 hours and $100,000 to comply with the ongoing demands. The defense earned a strong reprimand from the DoL and others in the industry who noted Google has touted its $150 m diversity efforts and has a nearly $28 bn annual income as one of the worlds wealthiest companies, constructing some of the most advanced technology.

Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could assimilate a single drop-off of water, DoL attorney Ian Eliasoph said in his closing debates last month.

Google has faced repeated criticism for its lack of transparency in the dispute. The company lawyers unsuccessfully lobbied to get the instance hurled out last month, arguing that a DoL official may have infringed ethics regulations by talking to the Guardian about the federal investigation.

In that interview, Herold said the data suggested that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry. Google also tried to restrict press access during one hearing.

Google is one of many tech companies that has combated allegations of discrimination and sexism in recent months, including Tesla, Palantir, Oracle and smaller startups across Silicon Valley.

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