Google has been accused by the US Department of Labor (DoL) of systemic compensation disparities which has discriminated against its female employees.
A US Department of Labor official disclosed the agency’s allegations during a court hearing in San Francisco.
The explosive allegation against one of the largest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley comes at a time when the male-dominated tech industry is facing increased scrutiny over gender discrimination, pay disparities and sexual harassment.
The accusation of lower compensation for women forms part of a lawsuit by the DoL, which has asked Google to provide salary data and documents to the government.
The department though has not released data to back its assertion.
Google, for its part, has denied that the company has a gender discrimination problem, and called the DoL’s request a “fishing expedition.”
Google — a subsidiary of Mountain View, Calif., company Alphabet Inc. — and other technology companies have been trying to improve hiring practices that have historically doled out most of their technical jobs to white and Asian men. Their efforts to strike a better balance have been mostly unsuccessful.
The Labor Department’s probe evolved from a lawsuit filed in January seeking to bar Google doing business with the federal government unless the company complied with an audit of its employee-compensation records.
Google has said it has turned over some of the requested records, but withheld other information that it believes would invade its workers’ privacy.
However, Google is a federal contractor, which compels the company to allow the government agency to inspect its records.
Although Google and its peers have been disclosing embarrassing gender and racial imbalances in their workforce for the last few years, the technology industry so far has kept its compensation practices a closely guarded secret.
Whatever the outcome in court, the government’s accusations risk damaging Google’s image.
Just three days earlier Google had taken to Twitter to boast that it had “closed the gender pay gap globally”. That claim is now under serious integrity scrutiny.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has several women holding high positions, including Ruth Porat, the chief financial officer, and Susan Wojcicki, who runs YouTube, an online-video business. However the important question is not only whether a few women get promoted but also how those in the middle and lower ranks fare.
For the past several years, Google has released its diversity data publicly in an annual report, that has shown a persistent dearth of women and minorities at the top.
Last year, women represented just 31 percent of Google’s workforce, and held just 24 percent of leadership roles.
In the Google case, the labor department’s lawyers have asked the court to cancel all of the company’s federal contracts and block any future business with the government if it continues to refuse to comply with the audit.
In January, the federal government agency also sued Oracle, another tech company, over pay discrimination against females and non-white employees