Lawsuit is the latest chapter in a recent flare-up over gender equality at the tech company.
Three former Google employees on Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit against the tech giant, alleging it discriminated against women in pay and promotions, building on a debate of whether gender bias is pervasive at Google.
The three women claim that Google placed them in lower job levels than their similarly qualified males, leading to lower pay, and denied the women promotions or transitions to other teams that would have led to better career advancement.
The complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, is the latest chapter in a recent flare-up over gender equality at Google. Thursday’s complaint comes on the heels of an accusation by the Labor Department that Google systematically underpays its female employees. And Google last month fired James Damore, an engineer, for publishing a memo that attributed Google’s gender gap in part to biological differences, not sexism.
Google, part of Alphabet Inc., has said its annual salary analyses show no pay gap among its more than 75,000 employees.
Lawyers for the three plaintiffs said more than 90 current and former Google employees came forward to say they faced discrimination.
One plaintiffs, Kelly Ellis, alleged that she was assigned to a lower level than her similarly qualified male counterparts when she was hired as a software engineer on the Google Photos team in 2010. In the complaint, Ms. Ellis claimed she was brought in at a level typically given to new college graduates, despite her four years of engineering experience. She asked for a promotion after learning that she had equal or better qualifications than male engineers in a higher level, and after receiving “excellent performance reviews.” She said she was denied. According to the complaint, Ms. Ellis resigned from Google around July 2014 due to “the sexist culture.”
The claims from the other two plaintiffs, Holly Pease, who managed software engineers, and Kelli Wisuri, a salesperson, follow a similar pattern where they felt their initial positions did not match their qualifications, then found it hard to catch up to male employees and move up the ladder.
Ms. Wisuri was placed in a sales role in 2012 that paid less because it was based on salary, not commission, according to the complaint. Ms. Wisuri noticed that most of the higher-paying commission-based roles were held by men, whereas women held about 50% of “sales enablement jobs” that were based on salary. She eventually left Google after three years in January 2015 “due to the lack of opportunities for advancement for women.”
“We disagree with the central allegations,” said a Google spokeswoman on Thursday, adding that the company will review the lawsuit. “Job levels and promotions are determined through rigorous hiring and promotion committees, and must pass multiple levels of review, including checks to make sure there is no gender bias in these decisions. And we have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly.”
She added that the company works to fix individual discrepancies and seeks to be a great employer “for every one of our employees.”
The three women came forward following a lawsuit the Labor Department filed against Google earlier this year to obtain salary data. The Labor Department lawsuit was part of a routine audit into whether Google complies with laws barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees. An initial review of Google’s 2015 pay figures “found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” according to testimony from a Labor Department official in April.
In July, an administrative law judge denied the Labor Department’s request for 19 years of pay data on 21,000 Google employees, ruling the inquiry is overly broad and intrusive of employee privacy. The agency said it will continue to investigate Google’s pay practices and decide whether to bring charges against the company based on the data it has.
Meanwhile, Google could also soon be facing a lawsuit from the other side of the gender-bias debate. Mr. Damore, the author of the controversial memo, filed a complaint last month with the National Labor Relations Board alleging Google discriminated against him for his views.
Mr. Damore has hired Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney and prominent Republican Party official, to handle his complaint. Ms. Dhillon said her law firm has spoken to several former Google employees who say they had experiences similar to his.
—Jack Nicas contributed to this article.