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Google to US: Too expensive to provide wage data in gender suit

The tech giant says it's "burdensome" to meet Labor Department demands in a trial involving salary and gender at Google, says a report.

Google and the US Labor Department are knocking heads over how men and women are paid at the company.

Google and the US Labor Department are knocking heads over how men and women are paid at the company.

Kimihiro Hoshino/Getty Images

Google got a jab from the US Labor Department Friday, when the tech powerhouse told a judge it would be too expensive to comply with a department request for certain wage data in an audit involving gender and salary at the search giant.

"Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water," a Labor Department attorney responded after Google officials testified it would cost the company up to 500 hours of work and $100,000 to comply with a Labor Department demand for the data.

Google parent company Alphabet is one of the most profitable firms in the US, landing at No. 8 on last year's Fortune 500 list and reporting a profit of $5.43 billion for the first quarter of 2017.

The courtroom exchange was reported Friday by The Guardian.

The testimony is part of a federal trial over a lawsuit (PDF) filed in January by the Labor Department. The department is trying to compel Google to hand over certain compensation data as part of an audit to ensure that the company, a federal contractor, is honoring equal employment laws. If Google doesn't hand over the data, the department says, it should lose its government contracts. The department said last month that the search giant systematically pays its female employees less than it pays men. The company strongly denies that assertion.

In court Friday, a Google attorney called the effort to provide certain documents to the Labor Department a "very time-consuming and burdensome project" and said the company has already devoted 2,300 hours at a cost of almost $500,000 to partly comply with the department's demands, The Guardian reported. Among other things, the difficulties involve privacy concerns and the need to redact some information to protect employees, Google said.

The Labor attorney said Google has regularly made millions of dollars from government contracts, according to The Guardian report.

The legal proceedings are unfolding as critics have been taking aim at Silicon Valley for its bro culture and its uneven playing field when it comes to the sexes. One 2016 report found that computer programming is the most unfair occupation in America in regard to women's salaries. Many major tech companies are also struggling with how to bring greater diversity to the workforce.

Google says privacy is a factor in its refusal to meet the Labor Department's requests for the wage information at issue. It says, too, that it's been co-operating with the department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and hopes to continue that process.

"As a federal contractor, we're familiar with our obligations and have worked collaboratively with the OFCCP," the company said in a statement. "We've worked hard to comply with the OFCCP's current audit and have provided hundreds of thousands of records over the last year, including those related to compensation. However, the handful of OFCCP requests that are the subject of the complaint are overbroad in scope, or reveal confidential data, and we've made this clear to the OFCCP, to no avail. These requests include thousands of employees' private contact information which we safeguard rigorously. We hope to continue working with OFCCP to resolve this matter."

The Labor Department didn't respond to a request for comment on the Guardian report.

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