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Google Cloud Engineering Director Ulku Rowe Files Discrimination Suit

'Despite (Rowe’s) exceptional performance and Google’s recognition of her contributions, the company has discriminated against her on the basis of her gender by hiring her at a lower level than similarly situated men, paying her less than her male counterparts and failing to promote her to a role for which she was the most-qualified candidate,' a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York states.

A female Google Cloud engineering director with a deep Wall Street background is suing Google, alleging the tech giant discriminated by hiring her at a lower level and paying her less than male peers and then tapping a less-qualified man for a promotion she was seeking.

Ulku Rowe also claims Google Cloud demoted her after she complained about being bypassed for the new role, according to her federal lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in New York. The lawsuit accuses Google of sex-based pay and gender discrimination, and violating federal and state equal pay laws and the New York City Human Rights Law.

“Since joining Google, (Rowe) has received ‘exceeds expectations’ on all her performance reviews,” court documents state. “Despite (Rowe’s) exceptional performance and Google’s recognition of her contributions, the company has discriminated against her on the basis of her gender by hiring her at a lower level than similarly situated men, paying her less than her male counterparts and failing to promote her to a role for which she was the most-qualified candidate.”

The Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has been issued a summons for the case.

“We take all complaints about unfair pay seriously,” a Google spokesperson said. “We thoroughly investigated Ms. Rowe's complaints regarding unfair pay and level-at-hire and did not substantiate her concerns.”

Rowe joined Google Cloud in March 2017 as technical director of financial services after more than 20 years of technology experience in the financial services industry, including as a managing director at JPMorgan Chase, where she was global head and chief technical officer of credit risk technology, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where she was global head of market risk technology. She also spent 12 years at UBS, where she last was executive technology director. A Fulbright Scholar, she has a master’s degree in computer science and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.

Google hired Rowe as a level 8 director, while her background and experience was commensurate to at least a level 9 director, according to her lawsuit. When she noted she might have been hired at the wrong level based on her experience and pay expectations, the hiring manager told her all technical directors were hired at level 8, and that she would receive an “equity refresh” award each year, positioning her to exceed her prior compensation at JPMorgan, court documents state.

“(Rowe’s) hiring manager also indicated that once Google Cloud verticalized, she would lead the financial services vertical, positioning her for long-term advancement within Google,” according to her complaint.

Rowe subsequently learned Google had hired male technical directors at level 9, which pays “hundreds of thousands of dollars” more in annual compensation, even though she was equally or more qualified than them, the lawsuit states. Google also failed to pay her the promised equity refreshes, instead giving her small equity awards that were hundreds of thousands of dollars less than the equity awards to her male colleagues, according to the lawsuit.

When Rowe started reporting to Google’s unnamed vice president of partners and industry platforms in 2018, he allegedly treated her differently than her male colleagues, the lawsuit contends.

“The VP told (Rowe) that he envisioned her as a global client technical lead, a demotion given her background and seniority,” court documents state. “He did not actively manage her; indeed, he only met with her approximately five times in the ten months he supervised her, despite her frequent requests for meetings. He frequently ignored her emails, and he excluded her from the development of the financial services vertical. The VP also regularly excluded (Rowe), but not her male colleagues, from staff meetings, email distribution lists, team off-sites and one-on-one meetings.”

Rowe’s lawsuit alleges Google denied her a promotion for which she was the most-qualified candidate, instead promoting a less-qualified man via a “tap on the shoulder” early this year, court documents state. Rowe had applied for the level-10 role of vice president of financial services when Google began verticalizing different industries.

“Even though (Rowe) was amply qualified for the position and previously had been told by both her hiring manager and Google Cloud’s chief technology officer that she was expected to move into that role, the VP failed to meaningfully consider (Rowe),” according to the complaint.

“(Rowe) objected to the promotion of a less-qualified man over her and complained again about Google’s discriminatory pay and promotion practices,” the lawsuit states.

Google’s human resources department “eventually conducted a cursory investigation and, in November 2018, ignoring the plain facts, communicated that they did not believe that the company had committed any wrongdoing,” the lawsuit claims.

This past April, Google allegedly told Rowe it was changing her role and gave her three “undesirable” options: work on a discrete project reporting to the new financial services vertical head; return to the chief technology officer’s office as an individual contributor; or look for a different role within Google while reporting directly to the new financial services vertical head.

“All three positions are reasonably perceived as demotions, as they are less prestigious and have less responsibility, less opportunity for upward advancement and less compensation potential,” the lawsuit states.

Rowe and her attorney could not be reached for comment. She’s seeking to recover the difference in pay between her and her male colleagues plus damages, past and future lost wages and benefits, and to be placed into the position she was seeking or a comparable one, or to have her compensation and benefits set that position’s level.

Rowe has played a “critical leadership role” at Google, according to her court complaint, becoming the point person for financial services-related product direction and recommendations, marketing plans, regulatory relationships and C-level customer engagements.

“She has represented the technical voice of Google Cloud in the market, which requires her to spearhead financial services regulatory engagement programs, travel around the world establishing important relationships with top companies and local financial regulators, provide recommendations to the technical C-suite, and meet with hundreds of customers at the C-suite level,” her lawsuit states.

Rowe has made keynote speeches on behalf of Google Cloud and led financial services-related sessions at its Google Next conference. She frequently serves as a Google Cloud spokesperson on financial services and represents Google at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s advisory group on financial technology, the lawsuit states.

Rowe’s lawsuit comes amid upheaval in the tech industry over sexual harassment allegations and gender bias lawsuits.

Thousands of Googlers walked off the job last November in protest of alleged workplace inequality and Google’s response to sexual harassment and reports that it gave a $90 million exit package in 2014 to a former senior vice president accused of sexual harassment. Google also is facing a proposed class action lawsuit alleging it discriminates against women in terms of pay, positions and promotions.

At its annual meeting in June, shareholders of Google parent company Alphabet voted down a proposal to develop reports on the company’s sexual harassment policies and global median gender pay gap

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