Female ex-Googlers sue, claiming sex discrimination

Enlarge / Employees and visitors walk through the Googleplex in Mountain View.

Three women who work for Google filed a lawsuit today alleging the company discriminates against female employees “by systematically paying them lower compensation.”

The lawsuit (PDF), which was filed in San Francisco Superior Court and seeks class-action status, says Google has violated the California Equal Pay Act and other sections of the state labor code.

Much of the allegations mirror claims made earlier this year by the US Department of Labor, which has an ongoing litigation against Google over alleged gender pay disparities. A statistical regression analysis performed by the government found “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” Google has disputed those claims.

The lawsuit alleges that Google “has channeled and segregated” women into career paths and “job ladders” that have lower compensation, compared with men with equal or lesser qualifications.

There are three named plaintiffs in the case. The first is Kelly Ellis, who was hired by Google in 2010 as a front-end software engineer on the Google Photos team. Although Ellis had four years of experience in software engineering, she was placed into Level 3 on her compensation “ladder,” a level that is typically assigned to new college graduates, according to the complaint.

“There is a false and gendered perception at Google that backend engineering is more technically rigorous, and therefore more prestigious, than frontend software engineering,” the complaint states. On Ellis’ teams, “almost all backend software engineers were men… Almost all female software engineers, however, were frontend engineers.”

Ellis resigned in July 2014 “because of the sexist culture at Google.”

The second plaintiff, Holly Pease, was a corporate network manager hired in 2005. She managed engineering teams but was never placed on a “technical” ladder, which would have offered improved salary, bonuses, pay raises, and company equity.

Pease even coached her employees how to pass technical interviews in order to get themselves onto the technical ladder, but she was denied “a fair opportunity to be paid at the same rate as similar employees,” according to the complaint.

After she returned from a medical leave, Pease says her career stalled, and she resigned from the company in February 2016.

The final plaintiff, Kelli Wisuri, joined Google in 2012 and worked in Sales Enablement. That job is less lucrative than working in Sales, which is paid on commission. Wisuri says that about 50 percent of employees she encountered with Sales Enablement jobs were women, whereas nearly all of the Sales workers were men.

The complaint says Wisuri left the company in January 2015 “due to the lack of opportunities for advancement for women at Google.”

A Google spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement that the company has “extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly.” She continued:

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. 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.

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