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Google offers $118m to settle gender discrimination lawsuit

Don't even think about putting LaMDA on the compensation committee

Google has promised to cough up $118 million to settle a years-long gender-discrimination class-action lawsuit that alleged the internet giant unfairly pays men more than women.

The case, launched in 2017, was led by three women, Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri, who filed a complaint alleging the search giant hires women in lower-paying positions compared to men despite them having the same qualifications. Female staff are also less likely to get promoted, it was claimed.

Gender discrimination also exists within the same job tier, too, the complaint stated. Google was accused of paying women less than their male counterparts despite them doing the same work. The lawsuit was later upgraded to a class-action status when a fourth woman, Heidi Lamar, joined as a plaintiff. The class is said to cover more than 15,000 people.

Ellis joined Google in 2010 as frontend software developer as a level-three engineer, a tier for those considered early-career. She claimed a male colleague with a similar background joined the company, and was put in at level four. When she applied for a promotion, it was denied. She quit Google in 2014.

Pease had a long career at Google, spanning over a decade. She held multiple manager-level positions in various parts of the web goliath, including corporate network engineering and business systems integration. However, her bosses told her she "lacked technical ability," it was claimed. At Google, non-technical folk are generally paid less than those in technical roles. Pease argued she should have been considered a technical worker, given her experience and abilities, and had a larger compensation package.

Meanwhile, Wisuri worked as a level-two employee in sales and was just short of being officially recognized as an official salesperson. Men were often hired as level three. Pretty much all workers on the official sales ladder track were men, she claimed, while women made up 50 per cent of the lower sales-enablement ladder. She resigned in 2015. 

Finally, Lamar joined the lawsuit when she discovered almost all men were paid more than women as pre-school teachers at Google's Children Center in Palo Alto. She had filed her own case against the company before the lawsuits were merged into one.

Now, Google has agreed to pay these women and around 15,500 other employees that held 236 different job titles as much as $118 million – minus lawyers' fees and other legal costs – to settle claims it violated California's laws related to equal pay, unfair competition, and ​​business and professions codes [PDF].

"While we strongly believe in the equity of our policies and practices, after nearly five years of litigation, both sides agreed that resolution of the matter, without any admission or findings, was in the best interest of everyone, and we're very pleased to reach this agreement," a Google spokesperson told The Register in a statement on Monday. 

"We are absolutely committed to paying, hiring and leveling all employees fairly and equally and for the past nine 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, and we'll continue to do that.

"In 2020 alone, we made upward adjustments for 2,352 employees, across nearly every demographic category, totaling $4.4 million. We also undertake rigorous analyses to ensure fairness in role leveling and performance ratings. We're very happy to have an advisor look at these processes and make recommendations for future improvement."

Under the proposed settlement, Google also agreed to hiring an independent third-party expert and labor economist to analyze its hiring practices and pay equity. 

"As a woman who's spent her entire career in the tech industry, I'm optimistic that the actions Google has agreed to take as part of this settlement will ensure more equity for women," plaintiff Holly Pease said in a statement.  "Google, since its founding, has led the tech industry.  They also have an opportunity to lead the charge to ensure inclusion and equity for women in tech." 

A San Francisco court will decide whether to approve the settlement or not in a hearing set for June 21. ®

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