Google wins court battle with Labor Department over wage gap data

Cesar Mills
July 17, 2017

"The Department of Labor [.] was recently attacked with ransomware".

A federal court in California moved on Friday to spare Google from turning over a trove of information about its employees to the US government as the feds continue to investigate whether the tech giant underpays its female workers.

But the Labor Department nevertheless declared victory, saying the judge's order will give it access to the data it needs to continue investigating "really damning" indications that Google paid women less than men across the entire company. The government agency in January sued Google to compel it to hand over certain compensation data as part of an audit to ensure that the company, a federal contractor, is honoring equal employment laws.

On Friday, Judge Steven Berlin sided with Google when he denied the request made by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) - a Department of Labor agency - to submit personal data of over 25,000 of its employees including their address and contact info.

"Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water", DoL attorney Ian Eliasoph said in his closing arguments last month.

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The defense earned a strong rebuke from the DoL and others in the industry who noted Google has touted its $150m "diversity" efforts and has a almost $28bn annual income as one of the world's wealthiest companies, building some of the most advanced technology. The Labor Department also has to limit the time frame for salary data it's collecting.

"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", Google said.

Federal investigators can try again, however, if they can "show that the request is reasonable, within its authority, relevant to the investigation, focused, and not unduly burdensome", the judge found. Those records are at the center of the new ruling, with Google successfully arguing that handing over the additional records breaches privacy laws and could expose staff to identity theft in the event of a government data breach. "It can achieve the same ends going back far fewer years".

DOL officials specifically assert that Google is not paying women the fair amount in comparison to their male counterparts.

"Over the a year ago, in connection with this audit alone, we've provided more than 329,000 documents and more than 1.7 million data points, including detailed compensation information, in response to [Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs'] 18 different data requests", Naughton wrote in a blog post. A spokesman did not immediately respond when asked to comment.

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