Google hit with job discrimination lawsuit

Former sales executive alleges her career at the search company was derailed while she was pregnant with quadruplets.

Dawn Kawamoto Former Staff writer, CNET News
Dawn Kawamoto covered enterprise security and financial news relating to technology for CNET News.
Dawn Kawamoto
3 min read
A former Google sales executive has filed a lawsuit against the search giant, alleging it engaged in job discrimination while she was pregnant with quadruplets.

Christina Elwell, who was promoted to national sales director in late 2003, alleges her supervisor began discriminating against her in May 2004, a month after informing him of her pregnancy and the medical complications she was encountering, according to the lawsuit filed July 17 in a U.S. District Court in New York.

Job discrimination lawsuits are nothing new for corporate America, even for companies like Google, whose founders built a company with the motto "don't be evil."

Google and attorneys for Elwell did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, Elwell's supervisor, Timothy Armstrong, Google's vice president of national sales, became concerned about her inability to travel for several weeks due to complications with her pregnancy. And in May 2004, he allegedly showed Elwell an organizational chart, in which her position had been deleted and asked her to accept a position in Google's operations department.

But Elwell, who also lost two of her four unborn children that month, told Armstrong she viewed the position as a demotion and one that would not require any of the sales skills she acquired over a 15-year history.

Within a week of this discussion, Elwell's proposal to move from being a national sales director to an East Coast regional sales director was rejected by Armstrong, who appointed a salesman that Elwell had previously trained and who had no Internet sales experience, according to the lawsuit.

"Armstrong called Elwell into his office and told her that she was an HR nightmare and that he no longer wanted her in the New York office," according to the lawsuit, noting Armstrong allegedly expressed concern that Elwell was discussing her situation with co-workers and views that her pregnancy was the reason for his actions.

A day after meeting in his office, Armstrong called Elwell on the phone and fired her, saying she "did not understand the direction the company was taking and that she had spoken to others," according to the lawsuit.

After meeting with an employee in Google's human resources department in mid-June 2004 to discuss her severance package, Elwell received an e-mail from Google executive Shona Brown who offered to reinstate Elwell to the operations position.

But also in the e-mail, Brown allegedly accused Elwell's husband of "acting under false pretenses by telling Google that Elwell was having a health crisis," according to the lawsuit.

After Google's director of human resources, Stacy Sullivan, contacted Elwell and told her she had been terminated improperly, Elwell accepted the operations position, even though she viewed it as a demotion.

On June 29, Elwell lost the third child of the unborn quadruplets.

Two days after Elwell's return to work on July 19, she was ordered by doctors to "remain out of work due to the stressful circumstances created by Google and Armstrong, which were putting her already high-risk pregnancy at further risk," according to the lawsuit.

Elwell went on disability leave, and while on leave gave birth to the remaining quadruplet.

On Aug. 18, the day before Google's long-awaited IPO debuted, Elwell filed a discrimination complaint against the company with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Elwell returned to work in January, following maternity leave, and was informed she would have to take the "low-level operations position" that was offered prior to her disability leave, rather than a sales position. She refused to accept the job and was discharged from Google, according to the lawsuit.