Judge sides with Google in its battle with the Labor Department over employee pay data

On Friday, an administrative law judge handed Google a victory, ruling that it does not need to hand over all the data requested by the Department of Labor as part of an audit of the company’s compliance with equal pay laws.

The decision by Judge Steven Berlin said that a demand for data about Google employees made by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), a Department of Labor agency, is “over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome, and insufficiently focused on obtaining the relevant information.”

The request was made in September 2015 as part of an audit by the OFCCP (Google is a federal contractor, so it is required to let the government review data relevant to its compliance with equal employment laws). Google did not comply and in an attempt to force it to release the data, the Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against the tech giant at the end of last year.

During the litigation, as the OFCCP and Google battled over just how much data the company was compelled to hand over, a Department of Labor witness claimed that there are “systemic” gender-related disparities in compensation practices related to salary negotiations.

In April, Department of Labor Regional Director Janette Wipper testified that “we found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.”

Berlin wrote in his decision that the OFCCP was unable to prove that claim: “Despite having several investigators interview more than 20 Google executives and managers over two days and having reviewed over a million compensation-related data points and many hundreds of thousands of documents, OFCCP offered nothing credible or reliable to show that its theory about negotiating starting salaries is based in the Google context on anything more than speculation.”

In a blog post, Eileen Naughton, vice president of people operations at Google, said that Google has complied with past OFCCP audits. For this particular one, the company “provided more than 329,000 documents and more than 1.7 million data points, including detailed compensation information, in response to OFCCP’s 18 different data requests.”

But Google “reached an impasse” when the OFCPP asked for 15 years of employee compensation and other job information, as well as what Naughton describes as “extensive personal employee data and contact information for more than 25,000 employees.”

“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 said.

If the Department of Labor doesn’t file an appeal and Berlin’s recommendation is finalized, Naughton said Google will comply with the rest of the order and provide “the more limited data set” approved by the judge, which includes contact information for up to 8,000 employees.