The US government is suing Google over its diversity data

Less than transparent.
Less than transparent.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Google’s self-declared mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

There are, apparently, some limits to that vision.

Google is being sued by the US Department of Labor over the company’s disclosure of compensation data and documents. The US Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which ensures that companies doing business with the government don’t discriminate against minorities or women, asked for the data as part of a routine audit in 2015, according to a Labor Department statement. When Google didn’t comply, the agency filed a suit with the office’s administrative law judges. “Despite many opportunities to produce this information voluntarily, Google has refused to do so,” the agency said.

Google says it gave the government hundreds of thousands of records but that it’s unwilling to hand over files that include its employees’ personal details. In an emailed statement, the company said:

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 technology industry has been under fire for years over its poor record of hiring and promoting women and minorities. Only a quarter of computing jobs are held by women, and blacks and Hispanics hold fewer than 4% of the technology jobs at the biggest tech companies, with some exceptions. At Google, 3% of the employees are Hispanic and 2% are black, according to the company’s own diversity report.

Google is also being sued for age-discrimination, and in October a US judge said the case may have enough merit to be expanded to a class action suit.

The government is showing more interest in pursuing discrimination cases. In September, the Labor Department sued Palantir, a data analysis company, accusing it of discriminating against Asians.

If Google is found to be violating its government contracts, the government could cancel them and bar the company from future projects. The money is a drop in the bucket for Google—it received just $7.8 million from the government last year—but for a company founded with the motto “Don’t be evil,”  the taint could be deeply embarrassing.