Owen H. Laird, Esq.
The tech companies of California’s Silicon Valley are playing an ever-expanding role in the world economy and redefining how people live their lives. However, in recent years, many of these companies have come under fire for their treatment of their workers, whether for overuse of “independent contractors” or numerous allegations of racism or sexism in the predominantly white, male field. Numerous lawsuits have been filed by current and former workers of all stripes, and class actions brought on behalf of entire classes of workers; one of the most broad-reaching actions addressing discrimination in Silicon Valley is not a single or multi-plaintiff lawsuit but an investigation by the United States Department of Labor into a potential gender pay disparity at Google.
Google is not only one of the wealthiest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley, it is also a federal contractor, which means it must grant the Department of Labor access to information about its compliance with federal anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws. The Department of Labor requested information on roughly 21,000 of Google’s employees as part of an investigation into a potential gender pay gap at the company. The Department of Labor’s investigation stems from pay disparities among Google employees identified in 2015.
Google, however, has refused to turn over the requested information to the Department of Labor, arguing that the information it has already provided is sufficient. This led the Department of Labor to file a lawsuit against Google in January of this year seeking to force the company to produce the information. The Department of Labor brought the suit in the Office of Administrative Law Judges, before Administrative Law Judge Steven Berlin.
Last Friday, ALJ Berlin issued a provisional ruling rejecting the Department of Labor’s request for records, ruling that the agency’s demand was too broad and could violate employees’ privacy. The ruling was a setback for the Department of Labor, which is now faced with option to appeal the decision or attempt to proceed with a more limited information request.
Google is not the only major Silicon Valley tech company to face off with the Department of Labor: Oracle and Palantir are both the subject of lawsuits filed by the Department of Labor alleging discriminatory hiring practices.
There is some doubt as to whether the Department of Labor will continue to vigorously pursue these types of cases under the Trump administration, given that the President has already rolled back worker protections and counts many Silicon Valley executives among his supporters. The Department of Labor filed suit against Google in early January 2017, mere days before President Trump took office.
If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of your gender, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.