Google is resisting a legal request to disclose salary records in a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit, marking the technology company’s latest efforts to prevent scrutiny of how much it pays its female employees.
Google attorneys argued in court on Friday that a judge should block a suit brought by former employees alleging systematic pay disparities on behalf of all women at the company. The company is also arguing that it should not have to provide information on the salaries of men and women or disclose wage policy documents until a first ruling on the class-action status.
The judge has not yet made an official decision but on Friday appeared to side with the tech giant on a number of issues.
The class-action complaint filed in September provided the most detailed formal accounts to date of gender discrimination at Google, alleging that the company denies promotions and career opportunities to qualified women and “segregates” them into lower-paying positions. Google’s latest efforts to thwart the lawsuit and avoid disclosures come at a time when the tech industry is reeling over allegations of misogyny, sexual harassment and an overall lack of diversity.
“Clearly the data is not good for them, and they don’t want to turn it over,” James Finberg, a civil rights attorney representing the employees, said after the hearing in San Francisco. “Eventually, the truth will come out, and the truth will show that they do in fact pay women less than men in the same job title in nearly every job.”
The suit – which provides accounts of alleged discrimination against a former engineer, business manager and sales employee – builds on claims by the US Department of Labor (DoL). Earlier this year, the federal regulator alleged “extreme” pay discrimination in positions and departments throughout Google and sued the Mountain View, California-based company for salary records as part of its audit.
Google has publicly insisted that it has no gender pay gap and is a leader on diversity and inclusion. But the company has also repeatedly resisted efforts to open its books to the government, has tried to block media coverage of its DoL dispute and has faced accusations that its strict confidentiality policies silence whistleblowers. In July, a judge ultimately forced the company to disclose certain compensation documents to federal investigators.
In court on Friday, Google’s lawyers argued that it was overly broad to file a complaint on behalf of all women employed by the company in California over the last four years and that the allegations of discrimination extended beyond applicable fair pay laws.
“It’s just an open-ended probe into the job duties of every employee in the entire company,” said the Google attorney Zachary Hutton. Later, referencing the plaintiffs’ requests for salary records, he said: “I cannot conceive of a more probing, more onerous set of discovery.”
Google faced backlash earlier this year when it argued it was too financially burdensome and challenging to compile the compensation data that the federal government had requested.
On Friday, after the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that Google should turn over policy records and salary data the company had already disclosed to the DoL, the Google attorney Felicia Davis argued that the request was premature and that it should come after a ruling on the class-action status of the case.
Davis also said some of what the lawyers had requested was too expansive and not relevant, adding: “It’s just a lot of extra work.”
Judge Mary Wiss responded: “I don’t know that because it’s a lot of work it shouldn’t be produced.”
But the judge questioned the scope of the class-action case and seemed to agree with Google on some matters. She issued no formal ruling, but said she believed there were “deficiencies” in the plaintiffs’ claims, called the suit “overly broad” and said she was inclined to rule in favor of Google in its initial pleadings to limit the class-action scope of the case. She also said Google did not yet have to provide any of the broader documents and records at this preliminary stage.
Hutton also repeatedly argued that even if there was a wage gap at the company, it was not necessarily illegal: “Pay disparity by itself does not establish a violation. You have to examine the reasons the disparity exists.”
The class-action attorneys argued that, based on the DoL’s investigation and the claims of their plaintiffs, the pay gaps were widespread and unlawful at Google.
“There is a serious problem at Google of paying women less,” testified Kelly Dermody, another lawyer representing the employees. “This is a critical cutting-edge matter in society.”
Google initially declined to provide a comment. However, following publication of the article, a Google spokesperson, Gina Scigliano, emphasized in a statement to the Guardian that the judge’s tentative ruling had sided with the company.
“The plaintiffs want class-wide discovery but haven’t provided the facts to support that. We argued that discovery should therefore be on hold until that’s resolved. The Judge agreed,” she said. “We believe the data makes our case and have agreed to produce compensation policies and practices, as well as additional compensation data once their pleadings are finalized.”
When the case was filed, the company defended its pay practices in a statement: “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.”
After the hearing, Finberg noted that Google’s attorneys did not deny there was a pay disparity and criticized the corporation for a lack of transparency: “They fought hard against the DoL. They fought hard against us. To me, it’s an indication they have something to hide.”