60-Plus Women Consider Filing Class-Action Lawsuit Against Google for Sexism, Gender Pay Disparity

More trouble could be headed Google’s way.

Roughly 60 employees, both current and former, are mulling filing a class-action lawsuit, accusing the Mountain View-based tech behemoth of sexism and income inequality, according to the Guardian.

James Finberg, a civil rights attorney handling the possible legal action, said that the women claim to earn significantly less — in terms of salaries, bonuses and stock options — than their male counterparts despite comparable qualifications and jobs.

When men bring in a higher base salary and stock options, "the big initial disparity turns into a larger and larger disparity every year," Finberg said.

Other employees described a "culture that is hostile to women," which impedes their chances for career growth, he told the Guardian.

Google has found itself embroiled in a scandal ever since engineer, James Damore, wrote a memo criticizing the company for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for "alienating conservatives." The parts that drew the most outrage made such assertions as women "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas" and have a "lower stress tolerance" and "harder time" leading, while more men "may like coding because it requires systemizing."

However, Google's code of conduct says workers "are expected to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination." CEO Sundar Pichai said Damore, who has since been fired, violated this code.

The fallout comes as Silicon Valley faces a watershed moment over gender and ethnic diversity.

Blamed for years for not hiring enough women and minorities — and not welcoming them once they are hired — tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Uber have promised big changes. These have included diversity and mentoring programs and coding classes for groups underrepresented among the companies' technical and leadership staff. Many tech companies also pledge to interview, though not necessarily hire, minority candidates.

These are the sorts of things Damore's memo railed against.

Initially shared on an internal Google network, the memo leaked out to the public over the weekend, first in bits and pieces and then in its 10-page entirety. It took a life of its own as outsiders weighed in. 

With its motto, "don't be evil," Google is broadly seen as a liberal-leaning company. However, the looming class-action gender lawsuit would add onto a U.S. Department of Labor case that also claims the company has a systemic problem of underpaying women. Labor officials have further criticized Google's strict confidentiality agreements, which they say deter women from reporting the prejudicial treatment they face.

Google denies the allegations, the Guardian reported.

After speaking to half of the 60 women who may be part of the lawsuit, Finberg said gender inequity is apparent at Google.

"They are concerned that women are channeled to levels and positions that pay less than men with similar education and experience," Finberg told the Guardian.

Several women describe earning tens of thousands of dollars less than male colleagues, who are doing the same work. One estimate puts the difference at $40,000, Finberg said.

A woman told Finberg that a man joined her team with a higher salary than what she was being paid — even though she was his supervisor, the Guardian reported.

Half of the women still work for Google while more than a dozen said the rampant discrimination forced them to question their value at the Silicon Valley giant and ultimately led to them resigning.

A woman described leaving Google after being subjected to inappropriate comments about her appearance, while being refused promotions despite her efforts and achievements.

In reference to the group of women who are thinking about the class-action, a Google spokesperson told the Guardian: "Sixty people is a really small sample size. There are always going to be differences in salary based on location, role and performance, but the process is blind to gender."

For his part, Finberg told the Guardian that such a class-action lawsuit could reverberate throughout the tech industry, if the women decide to file. 

"Google is not alone in Silicon Valley," he told the publication. "The goal of the case is to not only get Google to change its practices, but to encourage other Silicon Valley companies to change their pay practices as well."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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