Ulku Rowe's pay discrimination trial against Google began in New York on October 10.

The Google Cloud director alleges that she was hired at a lower level and salary than equally or less qualified men, and that when she raised her concerns with Google, the company denied her promotion opportunities and actually demoted her.

Ulku Rowe
– Ulku Rowe via LinkedIn

The case is the first against Google to make it to trial after the 2018 walkout when more than 20,000 employees left the company demanding a safer and fairer workplace for women, amid reports of sexual harassment and unequal pay.

Google previously had a forced arbitration policy that required employees to settle disputes privately and outside of court. However, the 2018 walkout saw the company bring that to an end, enabling Rowe to bring forward her case.

Google hired Rowe as the technical director of financial services at Google Cloud in 2017. She was previously CTO at JPMorgan Chase. According to filings, Rowe was the only woman among 17 people hired for technical director roles in that two-year period, some of whom, including Rowe, were employed as "level 8" employees, while others were rated "level 9." The hierarchy difference represents hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in payment.

Rowe mentioned this to her manager, who told her that everyone hired was a level 8, and that she would be promoted to VP once Google Cloud "reorganized."

Rowe says that she was then excluded from meetings, email lists and team offsites that the male counterparts were invited to, and that the VP position was ultimately given to a man despite Google Cloud's CTO telling her that she was the most qualified for the job. Rowe then complained, and was demoted. The CTO, Will Granis, is due to testify at the trial.

Google's internal investigation into Rowe's complaints saw the executive recruiter describing Rowe as "abrasive" and "cantankerous," and found no wrongdoing.

Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini said that the company runs an annual pay equity analysis. "We compensate Googlers based on what they do, not who they are," Mencini added.

Google's pay analysis data is not publicly available.

However, the argument being made by Rowe's legal team from Outten and Golden is not that employees at the same "level" are being paid unequally, but that the opportunities and pay level are not fair when looked at from the perspective of ability and qualifications.

Rowe is not alone in these accusations. Google engineer Erica Joy Baker compiled a salary spreadsheet of 1,200 employees at Google in 2015 which showed that women at most levels were making less than the men, and the gap widened the further you got up the hierarchy. Google refuted the analysis, but the US Department of Labor's investigation stated that there were "systemic compensation disparities" against women across the company and Google paid a $3.8 million settlement.

In 2022, Google paid $118 million to settle a class action filed on behalf of 15,500 women in California for similar accusations, and $22 million in a New York suit alleging discrimination against black and female employees.

In 2021, it was revealed that Google underpaid its temporary workers and contractors by more than $100 million in 16 countries, with reports stating that the company was aware it was breaking the law according to pay parity laws in the UK, Europe, and Asia.

DCD conducted its own research into these reports, interviewing several current and former temps, vendors, and contractors (TVCs), finding that they were paid far less, kept on short contracts, and stripped of basic benefits.