Ulku Rowe Is the First Google Employee to Beat the Company in Court Over Sexist Discrimination

In a statement, Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini focused on the company’s win in beating one of Rowe’s claims. “We are pleased that the jury unanimously found that Ms. Rowe has been paid and leveled fairly from the time she was hired to date, and that she was not subsequently denied any promotions,” she wrote, citing the jury’s decision not to award back pay as evidence that it agreed with Google’s leveling decision. “Fairness is absolutely critical to us and we strongly believe in the equity of our leveling and compensation processes.”

Greene disagrees with the idea that the verdict implied Google had fairly leveled Rowe. The jury found that Google treated Rowe less well because of her gender, she points out, and under-leveling was one of the ways Rowe and her attorneys alleged unfair treatment.

Mencini says Google disagrees with the jury’s finding that it discriminated and retaliated against Rowe. “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy,” Mencini wrote. She did not comment on whether Google plans to appeal.

Claire Stapleton, one of the organizers of the 2018 walkout, is celebrating Rowe’s victory while acknowledging the burden of speaking out. Stapleton left Google after she says the company demoted her in retaliation for her work on the walkout and other acts of employee resistance, claims that Google has denied. “Anyone who’s tried to make things fairer knows that typically when you make a complaint, you become a problem,” Stapleton says. “Let Ulku’s righteous victory be a clear message to workers at every level: The fight is worth it.”

Rowe says her case pressed on her like a weight over the four years it dragged on. “You go to work every day and put in 100 percent as a professional woman and an executive, but there is this big elephant in the room overshadowing everything that you do, affecting every relationship.” She says she drew strength from other women inside and outside Google, including members of the New York City chapter of the company’s women’s affinity group, which she coleads. “It was both uplifting and sad to hear from so many women who shared their personal stories [of discrimination],” she says.

Rowe says she decided to bring her case after exhausting Google’s internal channels. The company conducted two internal investigations, which Mencini called “thorough,” but found no evidence of discrimination or retaliation. At trial, however, Rowe’s lawyers were able to present evidence that was excluded from Google’s investigations, for example, by hearing testimony from three of Rowe’s male colleagues that Greene says wasn’t included in the company’s second internal investigation.

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