Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (Photo: Sebastian Bergmann)

A San Francisco administrative law judge has ruled partly in favor of Google Inc. in a long-standing data struggle with the U.S. Department of Labor, granting the Mountain View-based company some protection from a deep data probe for employee compensation, salary history and contact information.

Administrative Law Judge Steven Berlin, who is presiding over the complaint, described the Labor Department’s continued data requests as “over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome and insufficiently focused on obtaining the relevant information.” But Berlin did order Google to comply with limited parts of the government’s prior data requests.

Berlin’s order, filed July 14, puts a roadblock in the Labor Department’s efforts to suss out what one solicitor called “evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”

The tug-of-war dates back to September 2015, when the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs began an external audit of Google. The agency, which has the option of appealing the July 14 decision, routinely audits federal government contractors and subcontractors to find evidence of discrimination against women and minorities.

For more than a year, Google complied with the audit, which, according to the order, meant providing 1.3 million data points about its applicant flow, 400,000 to 500,000 data points on compensation and 329,000 documents, totaling about 740,000 pages. But a subsequent 2016 OFCCP request for employee data dating back to 2014, and a separate request for employee contact information, including phone numbers and physical addresses, went a step too far for Google.

On Jan. 4, OFCCP filed a complaint against Google for allegedly failing to comply with the government’s requests.

Just a few months later, on April 7, before the Office of Administrative Law Judges, Google’s attorneys at Jackson Lewis argued that OFCCP’s most recent data requests held no relevance to how the company calculated compensation.

But on the stand, OFCCP regional director Janette Wipper said her agency already found preliminary evidence of gender pay disparity inside Google. She said that, from those initial findings, the agency needed to analyze more data and it needed to interview employees to see if their statements matched what the data showed.

Google is represented by Jackson Lewis attorneys Lisa Sween, Daniel Duff and Matthew Camardella. Sween did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

OFCCP is represented by lawyers Marc Pilotin and Ian Eliasoph. Eliasoph told The Recorder that he is not ready to comment on whether the Labor Department office will appeal the decision, but he is “pleased the judge ordered Google to produce the vast majority of what we are looking for.”

In his order, Berlin said OFCCP’s request for employee contact information was relevant—however, he put a head count limit on the request. The judge allowed OFCCP to ask Google for contact information of 5,000 employees and, on interviews and secondary interviews, an opportunity to ask for another 3,000 employee contact information. He stressed the importance of privacy and potential data breaches in his order and said that ordering Google to offer contact information on its Mountain View-based employees is a burdensome breach of trust between the employer and its workers.

“These are 25,000 people whom no one has told their personal contact information might be given to the federal government, when the federal government has already collected (for most of them) information on their reportable (to IRS) income at work and their place of birth, citizenship, and visa status, among scores of other data points,” the judge wrote.

Also, according to the order, Google must provide limited employee data from Sept. 1, 2014, giving the government a “snapshot” of information regarding employee merit increases and promotions.