The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has hit Google with a multi-million-dollar fine over allegations that the search-engine giant discriminated against Asian and women software engineers.
In the settlement (PDF), the DOL states that it identified “preliminary indicators” that suggest women software engineers at Google’s Mountain View, Seattle, and Kirkland facilities were paid less than “comparable male employees.” It adds: “No allegation is made with respect to any race or ethnicity as to compensation.”
In the next paragraph, the settlement also highlights alleged hiring/selection disparities:
“OFCCP [the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] alleges that it identified preliminary indicators of hiring rate differences disadvantaging female (shortfall 112) and Asian (shortfall 72) applicants for software engineering positions between 9/1/16 and 8/31/17 at the Company’s Kirkland, San Francisco, and Sunnyvale establishments that, if proven, could result in a violation of Executive Order 11246 and 41 CFR § 60-1.4(a)(1). No allegation is made with respect to any other race or ethnicity as to hiring.”
In order to resolve the issues, the DOL is ordering Google to pay just over $2.5 million in back pay to the impacted workers. Another $1.25 million will go into a cash reserve for future salary adjustments.
But that’s not all: The DOL is ordering Google to “develop and conduct a training for all individuals involved in the compensation process at its Kirkland, Seattle and Mountain View establishments or maintain relevant trainings.” Those employees attending the training will include “all human resources recruiters, managers, and directors; production supervisors; and corporate human resources and compliance personnel.”
Unfortunately, the settlement lacks much detail about the exact nature of the discrimination. In a statement to Gizmodo, a Google spokesperson pledged that the company would keep diversity in mind going forward:
“We believe everyone should be paid based upon the work they do, not who they are, and invest heavily to make our hiring and compensation processes fair and unbiased. For the past eight years, we have run annual internal pay equity analysis to identify and address any discrepancies. We’re pleased to have resolved this matter related to allegations from the 2014-2017 audits and remain committed to diversity and equity and to supporting our people in a way that allows them to do their best work.”
Google has found its approach to diversity repeatedly questioned over the past few years, most recently in the wake of a prominent A.I. researcher’s termination. Timnit Gebru, former co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, claimed that Google’s management wanted her to take her name off a paper that pointed out how a large-scale A.I. language model (LLM) can generate biased results. When she refused, she said, they fired her (Google claims that Gebru resigned).
Gebru is also the co-founder of Black in A.I., which aims to diversify the A.I. field. Her email about the firing is quite lengthy and worth reading (hat tip to Platformer for posting it in its entirety), especially as it illuminates some key diversity issues roiling within the company. Google CEO Sundar Pichai subsequently apologized for the circumstances surrounding the termination.
A few years ago, Pichai responded to Google employees’ large-scale walkout over inequality and sexual harassment by pledging to listen to feedback and turn ideas “into action.” But the controversy over Gebru’s departure, combined with this latest DOL settlement, suggests that the company still has things to work on.