Lawsuit Accuses Google of Bias Against Black Employees

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A former employee at Google sued the company on Friday, claiming it systematically discriminated against Black workers by placing them in lower-level jobs, underpaying them and denying them opportunities to advance.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, seeks class-action status. The plaintiff is April Curley, who worked at Google from 2014 until she was dismissed in 2020. While there, Ms. Curley helped bring in Black employees to the company by designing programs to recruit from historically Black colleges and universities.

“Google is engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of intentional race discrimination and retaliation and maintains employment policies and practices that have a disparate impact against Black employees throughout the United States,” the complaint said.

A Google spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit echoes many of the complaints that Black employees have expressed over the years about working at Google. Even as it has grown to become one of the largest private employers in the United States, the company has struggled to increase racial and gender diversity among its work force — especially among its high-paid engineering staff.

According to its 2021 diversity report, 4.4 percent of Google’s U.S. employees were “Black+,” which includes workers who identify as more than one race, one of which is Black. That is far below the national average of 9.1 percent for digital publishing and search companies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The lawsuit said Google systematically hired Black employees at a lower job status than was appropriate for their experience. Since pay is tied to job levels, this allowed the company to underpay Black employees relative to their peers.

Qualified Black candidates were often deemed not “Googly” enough — an arbitrary designation that was a “dog whistle” for racial discrimination, the complaint said. It also said the company often “hazed” Black job candidates with intentionally difficult questions so they would do poorly in interviews, and it accused Google of hiring Black workers into lower-paying and lower-level jobs with less advancement potential.

Ms. Curley also said she was subject to a hostile work environment. During her six years at the company, she said, managers often mistook her for two other Black female colleagues. She said that she and those colleagues had not been permitted to speak or present during important meetings and that she had felt demeaned and sexualized when a manager asked which colleagues she wanted to sleep with.

The lawsuit said that Ms. Curley’s pay had been reduced and that she was reprimanded for speaking up in team meetings and challenging internal practices in 2019. A year later, the company put Ms. Curley on a performance improvement plan, and it terminated her employment in September 2020.