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A judge has ordered Google to hand over employee records to federal investigators probing the alleged gender pay gap at the Internet giant.
Google must provide the Labor Department with contact data for up to 8,000 employees to investigate whether the Silicon Valley company shortchanges women doing similar work to men, according to Friday's provisional ruling by Steven Berlin, an administrative law judge in San Francisco.
Berlin also denied part of the government's request for records, agreeing with Google that the demand for contact information for more than 25,000 was too broad and could violate the privacy of employees. He also called it "insufficiently focused."
In an interview, Labor Department regional solicitor Janet Herold said she's pleased the judge ordered Google to produce most of the kinds of records that the Labor Department has been fighting to access. Her office is trying to show there's a systemic wage gap at Google.
"We want to make it clear men and women of Google that we want to hear from them," she said. "That's our focus now."
Google has denied it pays women unequally.
In a blog post published Sunday, Eileen Naughton, Google's vice president of people operations, wrote that over the past year, Google had provided more than 329,000 documents and more than 1.7 million data points, including detailed compensation information, but "reached an impasse" when the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs wanted deeper personnel data.
"We were concerned that these requests went beyond the scope of what was relevant to this specific audit, and posed unnecessary risks to employees' privacy," Naughton wrote.
Berlin's decision, she noted, found that interviews with Google executives and managers — as well as reviews of more than 1 million compensation-related data points and other documents — resulted in "nothing credible or reliable" to show that the Labor Department's theory is based on "anything more than speculation."
Appearing in court in April, Janette Wipper, a Labor Department regional director, said investigators found "systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce."
Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., disagreed with the charges, saying at the time: "Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap."
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Only about one in five tech jobs at Google is held by a woman, the company says, while women represent nearly one-third of Google's more than 70,000 workers. In 2015, a former Google employee alleged a pattern of pay inequity, a charge the company denied.
The Labor Department's probe evolved from a lawsuit filed in January seeking to bar Google doing business with the federal government unless it complied with an audit of employee compensation records. Google has said it turned over some of the requested records but withheld others that it believes would invade workers' privacy.
In his decision, Judge Berlin said the Labor Department didn't explain convincingly why it needed extensive data — including names, addresses, telephone numbers and personal email addresses — of Google workers.
The department had already requested that Google provide information about workers' dates of birth, education, performance ratings and salary histories, among other details.
Berlin wrote that allowing the Labor Department to obtain all the data it seeks could expose innocent Google employees to identity theft, fraud or other dangers.
"Anyone alive today likely is aware of data breaches surrounding this country's most recent Presidential election," he wrote. Berlin also noted that the Labor Department itself was "recently attacked with ransomware."
He said the department should move more slowly and deliberately with its investigation, rather than asking for bulk data while offering "nothing credible or reliable" to show that it is doing more than speculating. The 43-page decision could be finalized as soon as the end of July if an appeal is not filed.