Google hired April Curley to recruit more black workers, but fired her for pushing back against the firm’s “racially biased corporate culture,” she claims in a lawsuit filed Friday.
Curley, a Black woman who worked at Google from 2014 to 2020, alleges in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose that she and other Black workers at the Mountain View digital-advertising giant were paid lower wages, denied advancement opportunities, and subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of race. She is seeking class-action status for the suit, to bring in all Black current and former Google employees.
“Google’s centralized leadership, which is nearly devoid of Black representation, holds biased and stereotypical views about the abilities and potential of Black professionals,” the suit alleged. “As a result, and pursuant to company-wide discriminatory policies and practices, Google hires few Black employees and steers those few Black employees into lower-level roles, pays them less, and denies them advancement and leadership roles because of their race. Black Google employees face a hostile work environment and suffer retaliation if they dare to challenge or oppose the company’s discriminatory practices.”
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company, the first major technology firm to report workforce-diversity numbers, said last year in its most recent report that 4.4% of its U.S. workers were Black — 3% in technology jobs — and half were White. In leadership positions, 3% were Black and two-thirds were White. Black workers made up 9% of new hires last year, up from 6% in 2020, the report said.
The lawsuit cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing Black workers make up 9.1% of the workforce in the internet and web-search industry.
Curley’s legal action comes amid increasing criticism of Google over how its workers of color are treated. The 2020 departure of star artificial-intelligence researcher Timnit Gebru, a Black woman who had internally attacked the company’s diversity efforts, spotlighted race-based issues at the firm, with CEO Sundar Pichai telling employees in a memo obtained by Axios that “we need to accept responsibility for the fact that a prominent Black, female leader with immense talent left Google unhappily.” The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is investigating Google’s treatment of female Black workers in connection with alleged incidents of discrimination and harassment, Reuters reported in December.
Google recruited Curley, who had been working at the non-profit Teach for America, to design an outreach program aimed at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and to bring Black university students into the company, according to the suit.
“As (Curley’s) success in recruiting talented, well-qualified Black candidates grew, she discovered that Google was not genuinely interested in actual diversity and equal employment opportunities but wanted only to burnish its public image for marketing purposes,” the suit claimed. Curley was “unwilling to be used as a mere marketing ploy,” the suit alleged.
Curley, like Black hires in general at Google, was “under-leveled” by her placement in a job category that did not correspond to her education and experience, the suit claimed. The firm pays Black employees less than their peers with similar jobs, and keeping Black employees at lower levels also means they receive lower bonuses and reduced stock options, the suit claimed. Curley, like many other Black workers at the tech titan, was never promoted, the suit alleged.
When Curley’s sole Black supervisor put her up for a level increase, Google “falsely claimed it lacked the budget to adjust her pay,” the suit claimed. “Curley later learned that a high-level White manager had blocked her pay and level increase. Although that manager worked on the same floor as Curley and the two enjoyed a cordial relationship, she admitted to Curley that she considered her ‘intimidating,’ ‘unwelcoming,’ and — a stereotype Black women in America are all too familiar with — ‘angry.’”
Hiring managers at Google “deemed Black candidates not ‘googly’ enough, a plain dog whistle for race discrimination,” and interviewers undermined Black job applicants by asking them questions inappropriate for the jobs they sought, the suit claimed.
In the year before she was fired, Google repeatedly reprimanded Curley and cut her compensation because she spoke up in team meetings and challenged internal practices, the suit claimed. After she met several times with about a dozen Black and Latino workers to address issues facing workers of color and they developed a list of “desired reforms,” Google put her on an informal performance-improvement plan in “plain retaliation for Curley’s leadership role in this advocacy group,” the suit alleged. While on the plan, Curley told the company she was “preparing a detailed report about its racial bias in hiring practices,” and in response, Google illegally fired her, the suit claimed.
Curley is seeking the value of compensation and benefits that she and other Black employees allegedly lost, as well as appropriate jobs, promotions and seniority, plus unspecified damages.
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