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Muted reaction to new Google gender-bias lawsuit

The treat of a possible class action lawsuit against Google for systematically paying women less across the board has so far been downplayed by the company. It is also no surprise to many Germans.

In Germany, the participation of women in work and the difference in pay for women and men are not new topics. Yet calls for more transparency with diversity figures and the gender pay gap permanently fill newspapers and social media.

As recently as Monday a group of German women's organizations wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel demanding more support for their goals of equal participation, equal pay and better monitoring of gender policies after the September 24 general election.

The Social Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partners, have also made it an election talking point and have plastered cities with posters declaring that "Women who work 100 percent cannot earn 21 percent less."

Still progress is slow. None of Germany's top-30 listed companies has a female CEO and women hold only 7 percent of executive positions in the 160 largest listed firms, though this is up from 6 percent in 2016.

Nothing new in the Valley

But the problem is much bigger than Germany. A trio of former Google employees on Thursday filed a lawsuit in a San Francisco state court accusing the technology giant of paying women less than men for the same work.

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The lawsuit appears to be the first to make class action sex bias claims against Google, but is only the latest instance of a major tech company being accused of discriminating against women.

The US Department of Labor sued Oracle America in January, claiming it paid white men more than women and minorities with similar jobs. Microsoft and Twitter are facing sex bias lawsuits. Qualcomm settled claims for $19.5 million (16.3 million euros) last year.

Meanwhile, Uber in June said it would make a series of changes after a former engineer in a blog post accused the ride-hailing service of condoning rampant sexism.

See you in court

The current lawsuit against Google on behalf of the three women accuses the company of "systemic and pervasive pay and promotion discrimination against its female employees" in California. A Google spokeswoman denied the claims in a statement.

Nonetheless, lawyers are seeking class-action status for the suit in a bid to represent more women currently or formerly employed at Google over the last four years. The plaintiffs say Google violated California laws requiring equal pay for similar work and prohibiting unfair and unlawful business practices.

Currently men make up 69 percent of Google's employees — in the technical jobs it is around 80 percent. 

Google's problems stacking up

Google newest troubles come as the company faces an investigation by the labor department into sex bias in pay practices. The investigation stems from a 2015 audit in which the department says it discovered sex-based wage gaps among Google workers.

The department last month appealed an administrative judge's July decision that rejected its request for contact information for more than 20,000 Google employees.

It also comes as Google deals with the aftermath of a firestorm over sexism and free speech sparked by a "manifesto" published as an internal memo by then-employee James Damore which was leaked and claimed that "biological differences" were a key factor in the low percentage of women in technology jobs.

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tr/uhe (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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