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Four women suing Google for pay discrimination just had their lawsuit upgraded to a $600m class action

Legal challenge now on behalf of more than 10,000 others

A lawsuit spearheaded by four female Google ex-employees claiming the ad giant pays men higher wages for doing the same job was granted class-action status this week.

On Thursday, Judge Andrew Cheng of the Superior Court of California in San Francisco, said [PDF] the plaintiffs – Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, Kelli Wisuri, and Heidi Lamar – can not only proceed against Google but also can represent more than 10,800 women who may have also been unfairly paid less than their male colleagues at the internet titan.

Their complaint was filed in 2017, seeking damages from Google that could now balloon to $600m given its status. The women argued Google had violated the California Equal Pay Act, and failed to pay them their full wages after they quit or were dismissed.

“Google has discriminated and continues to discriminate against its female employees by paying female employees less than male employees with similar skills, experience, and duties; by assigning and keeping women in job ladders and levels with lower compensation ceilings and advancement opportunities than those to which men with similar skills, experience, and duties are assigned and kept; and by promoting fewer women and promoting women more slowly than it has promoted similarly-qualified men,” their paperwork stated.

“The net result of this systemic discrimination is that Google pays women less than men for comparable work.”

Ellis was hired as a frontend software engineer working on a team at Google Photos in 2010, and had at the time four years of experience working as backend developer. She was taken on as a level-three engineer, a grade associated with graduates and other early-career workers.

Within weeks of joining the company, she said Google had hired a male colleague with the same qualifications as her but as a better-paid level-four engineer. When she applied for a promotion, it was denied. It is alleged managers acknowledged her “excellent” performance reviews yet didn’t want to pay her at the same rate as her male counterparts because she hadn’t been at the company long enough.

She eventually did get promoted to level four, and claimed that by then male engineers who had similar backgrounds and experiences were already at higher levels and, thus, were paid more. Ellis quit Google in 2014, blaming its “sexist culture."

Google doesn’t just discriminate against women in technical roles, the lawsuit alleged. Kelli Wisuri was employed in sales as a level-two employee in 2012, and claimed men in sales were given level-three status. Although Wisuri was a sales representative, she said Google considered her to be on the “Sales Enablement ladder,” a class that has less pay than someone in a fully fledged sales role.

She said pretty much all workers on the sales ladder were men, and 50 per cent of people on the sales-enablement ladder were women. By 2015, she resigned, too.

A similar case was put forward by Holly Pease. As a corporate network manager, she oversaw data warehouses, software applications, and various services internally. But throughout her eleven-year career at Google, she was never promoted to a ladder that was considered technical.

Pease claimed even though she helped other employees pass technical interviews to get onto more senior technical positions, managers told her she “lacked technical ability.”

Finally: Heidi Lamar joined the lawsuit in 2018 [PDF] after earlier filing her own case against Google. She said she had discovered her male colleagues employed as preschool teachers were being paid higher starting salaries than nearly all the female ones at Google’s Children Center in Palo Alto.

A Google spokesperson told The Register: “We strongly believe in the equity of our policies and practices. For the past eight years, we have run a rigorous pay equity analysis to make sure salaries, bonuses and equity awards are fair. If we find any differences in proposed pay, including between men and women, we make upward adjustments to remove them before new compensation goes into effect.

“In 2020 alone, we made upward adjustments for 2,352 employees, across nearly every demographic category, totalling $4.4m. We also undertake rigorous analyses to ensure fairness in role leveling and performance ratings.”

It’s not the first time Google has faced such allegations. Back in February, it was ordered to cough up $3.8m in back pay for female engineers who earned less money than their male colleagues, and for discriminating against Asian women applying for jobs in technical roles.

The case is so far set to go to trial some time next year. ®

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