Google Cloud Executive Begins Gender Discrimination Trial Against Technology Giant

October 2, 2023

Ulku Rowe alleges that five male colleagues were hired at a higher compensation level for her same job, including men with lesser qualifications

Rowe’s is the first pay discrimination case filed against Google after the 2018 mass walkouts and the first since then to go to trial

NEW YORK, NY – A closely watched gender discrimination trial against Google is scheduled to begin this week in the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York. Ulku Rowe, a female Google Cloud executive, alleges that the technology company violated state and federal law when it hired her at a lower salary level than similarly situated male peers. Ms. Rowe also claims that male supervisors overlooked her for promotion and, after she raised complaints of discrimination and filed her discrimination lawsuit, retaliated against her for doing so. The jury trial is set to begin on October 4 and will be presided over by Judge Jennifer H. Rearden.

Google first offered Ms. Rowe the role of Technical Director in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) within Google Cloud in December 2016. Ms. Rowe, who has both a Bachelor of Science and Masters in Computer Science/Engineering, came to Google from JPMorgan Chase where she had been a Managing Director and the Chief Technology Officer for Global Credit Risk. Ms. Rowe had more than two decades of experience in technology and financial services and was highly qualified for a senior role at Google. Google allegedly told Ms. Rowe that it was hiring all Technical Directors as a Level 8, but Ms. Rowe later learned that Google had hired five men at Level 9.

“I have been proud to champion Google Cloud’s products and service offerings on a global stage, but my time there has been overshadowed by what I believe are unfair compensation and treatment due to my gender,” said Ulku Rowe. “I hope that through the course of this trial we can shine a light on Google’s murky hiring and advancement policies to the benefit of women and people of color throughout the company and industry.”

According to filings, there were no meaningful distinctions between the Technical Director role at Levels 8 and 9 – there was a single job description for the role and successful candidates had the same relevant qualifications, were interviewed using the same questions, and were evaluated against the same hiring rubric. Once hired, all Technical Directors reported to the same manager, Will Grannis, who is now Google Cloud’s CTO. Google did not distinguish between Level 8 and 9 Technical Directors internally or externally – many did not know their own level or the level of others performing the role – but Level 9 Technical Directors were more highly compensated and had greater advancement potential than Level 8 Technical Directors.

“Unequal pay along gendered lines is all too common in the technology industry, and it’s one of the things that motivated Google employees to walk off the job in 2018,” said Cara Greene, partner at Outten & Golden and attorney for Ms. Rowe. “Throughout her tenure at Google, Ms. Rowe has been an exceptional employee and has often been the face of Google Cloud on the global stage. She has been the co-head of Google’s New York Women’s Affinity Group, while serving on the Federal Reserve Board of New York’s FinTech Advisory Group. None of that has spared her from what we believe to be differential treatment.”

In June 2018, Google changed Ms. Rowe’s reporting structure and she began reporting to the Vice President of Partners and Industry Platforms, Tariq Shaukat. Mr. Shaukat was in the midst of hiring a Vice President for Financial Services, and while Ms. Rowe was uniquely qualified for the role, she alleges that Google refused to meaningfully considered her for the position. Ultimately Google selected a male report for the senior role, even though the man had not interviewed for the position and did not meet the published minimum qualifications.

Ms. Rowe repeatedly raised concerns internally about her under-leveling as compared to her male peers and the way it was impacting her career advancement, but Google did not adjust her level. Ultimately, Ms. Rowe filed this lawsuit in October 2019, and she alleges that after she did so, Google denied her another Vice President position for which she believes she was qualified.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2019, came less than one year after 20,000-employees walked out of Google offices, demanding, among other things, a commitment by Google to end pay and opportunity inequity for women and staff of color and the practice of forced arbitration at the company.

Ms. Rowe is represented by Cara E. Greene, Gregory Chiarello and Shira Gelfand of Outten & Golden LLP.