Google has been ordered to pay more than $1 million to a senior executive who accused the company of gender discrimination and subsequent retaliation for speaking out. Ulku Rowe, an engineering director at Google Cloud, alleged that she was hired at a lower position with lower pay compared to less-experienced male colleagues hired for similar roles at the same time. She also claimed that she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a less qualified male coworker.
A New York jury, in a unanimous decision, determined that Google did engage in gender-based discrimination, awarding Rowe a total of $1.15 million for punitive damages and the emotional distress it caused her. However, the jury did not find evidence that Google had violated New York’s equal pay law. Rowe, who had 23 years of experience when she joined Google in 2017, asserted that she was offered a position with significantly lower pay than what male counterparts received.
Rowe’s lead attorney, Cara Greene, stated, “This unanimous verdict not only validates Ms. Rowe’s allegations of mistreatment by Google, but it also sends a resounding message that discrimination and retaliation will not be tolerated in the workplace.” This landmark decision comes nearly five years after approximately 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout to demand changes in how the company handled issues related to sexual misconduct and discrimination.
While Google committed to improving its response to sexual harassment following the walkout, its handling of bias-related issues remained a subject of concern. According to Bloomberg Law, the Rowe lawsuit is the first of its kind that Google has faced since the protests of 2018. Greene credited the 2018 demonstrations for making this historic decision possible.
In response to the verdict, Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini emphasized the company’s commitment to fairness in its leveling and compensation processes. Mencini noted that the jury’s determination that Google did not violate New York law supported this commitment. However, Google disputed the jury’s finding that the company had discriminated against Rowe on the basis of her gender or retaliated against her for raising concerns about her pay, position, and gender.
“We disagree with the jury’s finding that Ms. Rowe was discriminated against on account of her gender or that she was retaliated against for raising concerns about her pay, level, and gender,” Mencini stated. “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy. We take employee concerns seriously, and we thoroughly investigated Ms. Rowe’s concerns when she raised them and found there was no discrimination or retaliation.”