Google ordered to pay $1 million to female exec who sued over gender discrimination

Google Cloud engineering director Ulku Rowe alleged the company paid her less because of her gender, and denied her promotions.

Peter DaSilva / reuters

Google will have to pay over $1 million to an executive who alleged the company discriminated against her based on her gender and later retaliated when she spoke up about it. Ulku Rowe, a Google Cloud engineering director, accused the company of hiring her at a lower level, lower paid position than men with less experience who were hired for similar roles at the same time, according to Bloomberg Law. She also claimed she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a less qualified male colleague.

A New York jury on Friday decided that Google did commit gender-based discrimination, and now owes Rowe a combined $1.15 million for punitive damages and the pain and suffering it caused. But, according to Bloomberg Law, it also determined that Rowe did not prove Google violated the New York equal pay law. Rowe had 23 years of experience when she started at Google in 2017, and the lawsuit claims she was lowballed at hiring to place her at a level that paid significantly less than what men were being offered.

“This unanimous verdict not only validates Ms. Rowe's allegations of mistreatment by Google, but it also sends a resounding message that discrimination and retaliation will not be tolerated in the workplace,” said Rowe's lead attorney, Cara Greene, in a statement provided to Engadget. It comes nearly five years after some 20,000 Google employees organized a walkout to demand changes around the company’s handling of sexual misconduct and discrimination.

While the company pledged to do better on sexual harassment, its response still left a lot to be desired on the topics of bias. According to Bloomberg Law, the Rowe lawsuit is the first such case Google has faced since the protests. Greene called the jury's decision “historic,” and credited the 2018 demonstrations for making it possible.

In a statement, Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini said that “fairness is absolutely critical to us and we strongly believe in the equity of our leveling and compensation processes.” Mencini said the jury's finding that Google didn't violate New York law supports this, but went on to dispute its decision that Google did discriminate against Rowe.

“We disagree with the jury’s finding that Ms. Rowe was discriminated against on account of her gender or that she was retaliated against for raising concerns about her pay, level, and gender,” Mencini said. “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy. We take employee concerns seriously, and we thoroughly investigated Ms. Rowe’s concerns when she raised them and found there was no discrimination or retaliation.”

Update, October 22 2023, 9:57AM ET: This story was updated to include a statement from Google and clarify that the jury found Rowe did not prove the company violated New York's equal pay laws.

Update, October 22 2023, 2:45PM ET: This story was updated to include a statement from Rowe's attorney.