The memorandum suggests that women may lag behind men in technology-industry positions because they are less assertive and more neurotic. This ignited a fierce debate inside and outside the company. The author has already been fired.
But while Google is dealing with a public relations crisis over sexism and diversity, it also faces accusations from a powerful body: the US government.
The Labour Department sued Google in January for the company to file compensation data for its employees. The lawsuit was filed in the last days of the Barack Obama administration.
A regional director of the Labour Department later testified that the agency found a “systemic” problem that Google paid less to women.
The company has said it “vehemently” disagrees with that conclusion and called it an “unfounded statement.” The company said it analysed the data and found that it “does not have a gender wage gap.”
The government’s demand, combined with the negative reaction to the engineer’s note, underscores the enormous scrutiny under which Google finds itself.
The request for data is part of an audit of equal opportunity recruitment practices at Google, which is required because of the company’s role as a federal contractor.
Google has argued that requesting work history and salary data could be a risk to employee privacy and would be too costly for the company.
The Labour Department has disagreed in particular with this last point, noting that Google is one of the most profitable businesses in the world.
Eileen Naughton, Vice President of Google Personnel Operations, wrote in a post-judgment blog post that Google “would comply with the rest of the order” once the decision is final.
Even if the government disregards the Google case, the company could still have to deal with payment problems.
A San Francisco lawyer, James Finberg, said his office has been contacted by about 70 women employed at Google in recent weeks with complaints about pay inequality, promotion and work assignments.
Finberg says he was interested in the case when reading the transcripts of the Department of Labour’s investigation. He expects to file suit in the coming weeks.