Reg comments16

Google must cough up contact info for 8,000 employees in gender discrimination case

But judge narrows scope of US Labor Dept request

Google, photo by lightpoet via Shutterstock

Google has been ordered to hand over personal details of 8,000 employees as part of an ongoing US Labor Department investigation into equal pay.

A judge provisionally ruled Friday that Google must provide names, personal addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses to the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) for 5,000 employees, upon request. After the OFCCP has interviewed a selection of these employees, it may request an additional 3,000.

The case began in January, when the OFCCP filed a lawsuit requesting salary structure details and employee information from Google in order to verify that the company is meeting Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contracts from discrimination based on race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or national origin, and gives the OFCCP authority to verify.

Google insists it has "closed the gender pay gap globally" and according to its *cough* internal *cough* annual analysis, provides "equal pay across races in the US".

But the Labor Department has said that it had "found systematic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the workforce" and requires additional information from the tech giant.

The OFCCP has previously gathered details such as name, date of birth, place of birth, citizenship, visa status, salary and stock grants for 21,114 Google employees as of September 1, 2015. It has also interviewed 20 or so Google executives and managers.

In the new lawsuit, the OFCCP was requesting a 2014 snapshot of 19,539 staff employed on September 1, 2014 (in addition to the existing 2015 snapshot).

The OFCCP was also requesting contact info for all Google's 25,000 or so employees (from either the 2014 or 2015 snapshot) so that it could get a selection of workers' views on compensation. Although it likely wouldn't interview all, the OFCCP wanted a way to shield the identity of informants.

Finally, it wanted salary and job history starting from the employee hire date (1998 – Google's start – for some employees) in order to check if the pay disparity at Google was coming from negotiations at initial hire.

In the provisional ruling, the judge decided the OFCCP should get some but not all of the data it requested, citing undue burden on the tech giant and employees (such as the security of data), the fact that some of the data it was seeking fell outside the period when Google was a federal contractor, and further questioning the theories on potential causes of pay disparity.

While the OFCCP will not get additional salary and job history information, the judge wrote it can receive a 2014 snapshot of salary data in addition to contact info for 5,000 names and then an additional 3,000 later on if it wishes.

Regarding contact data, the judge wrote: "Together, this should give OFCCP ability to contact – confidentially and without Google's knowledge – all employees whom OFCCP believes are likely to have information relevant to the investigation (plus others whom OFCCP randomly selects), keep those employees hidden in plain sight, and at the same time protect the private contact information of as many Google employees as possible."

The judge decided that the OFCCP will have to do more work if it wants to receive more info.

In a blog post Sunday, Google's VP of People Operations, Eileen Naughton, reiterated that Google's internal analysis "shows no gender pay gap" (methodology here) and the company has already provided over 329,000 documents and 1.7 million-plus data points as part of the investigation.

"Assuming the recommended decision becomes final, we'll comply with the remainder of the order, and provide the much more limited data set of information the judge approved, including the contact information for a smaller sample of up to 8,000 employees," she wrote.

"While we're pleased with Friday's recommended decision, we remain committed to treating, and paying, people fairly and without bias with regard to factors like gender or race. We are proud of our practices and leadership in this area, and we look forward to working constructively with OFCCP, as we complete this review and in the future."

The Labor Department's federal solicitor in San Francisco, Janet Herold, told The Register: "The court's decision vindicates OFCCP's vigorous enforcement of the disclosure and anti-discrimination obligations federal contractors voluntarily accept in exchange for taxpayer funds.

"Contractors will be held to their promise to let OFCCP fully audit their employment practices." ®

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