Unequal Salary to Women: How Google Was Forced to Settle Pay Bias Lawsuit

The settlement promised to provide $118 million in monetary relief to its female staff.

Tech and Auto
3 min read

Google, on Sunday, 12 June, settled a class-action lawsuit that alleged that it systematically underpaid women.

The company was sued in 2017 by three former female employees. In Ellis v. Google LLC, a fourth plaintiff (also female) was later added.

The settlement promised to provide $118 million in monetary relief to its female staff and to even invite external experts like a labour economist to review its financial practices.

The tech giant, in a statement, said, "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."

It also said that "for the past nine years we have run a rigorous pay equity analysis to make sure salaries, bonuses, and equity awards are fair."

What are some of the details of this case? Who are the plaintiffs? What are both sides of the lawsuit saying?


Ellis v Google LLC

The case dates back to 2017, when three former Google employees sued the company in a San Francisco court.

Incidentally, this was the same year when the US Department of Labor sued Google over "systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce."

That case was settled in 2021, with the company paying more than $3.8 million to about more than 5,000 employees and job applicants, according to The Financial Times.

In Ellis v Google, the accusation was that it paid women lower salaries compared to men for equivalent positions in the company.

Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged that female employees were appointed at lower positions in the company than men with similar work experiences due to previously earned smaller salaries.

Google, the lawsuit said, traps women in lower career tracks, which leads to both lesser pay and lower bonuses.

The plaintiffs also alleged that the company's pay practices violated California’s Equal Pay Act, and also the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The lawsuit was later trimmed down to pay discrimination only.

The company has now settled the lawsuit which covers more than 15,000 women employed in California. This is spanning across 236 different job titles.

The settlement is to be approved by the court and whether that happens or not, we will know on 21 June. This is not the first that Google has ignited controversy regarding its employees.

Last year, other than the aforementioned DoL case, Google agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit that accused the company of underpaying female engineers and purposefully ignoring Asian job applicants.

Additionally, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is investigating Google over allegations of harassment and discrimination against Black women working for the company, The Verge reported.

Who Are the Plaintiffs?

The plaintiffs in the case are Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, Kelli Wisuri, and Heidi Lamar.

Kelly Ellis worked as a software engineer for about four years, according to the plaintiffs' counsel Altshuler Berzon LLP and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP.

She left the company with the title of senior manager.

Reacting to the settlement, Ellis said, "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. 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."

Holly Pease worked for Google for approximately 10.5 years, holding multiple leadership roles like corporate network engineering manager among others.

Kelli Wisuri worked for Google for approximately 2.5 years and held roles like enterprise operations coordinator and enterprise sales operations associate among others.

Heidi Lamar worked as a preschool teacher at Google’s Children Center in Palo Alto for approximately four years.

Additionally, the co-counsel of the plaintiffs, Kelly Dermody, said that the settlement "will be precedent-setting for the industry" and that "it's a broad recognition of the need to address levelling issues that have affected women in technology."

(With inputs from AFP, FT, and The Verge.)

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