Google fires back at age discrimination lawsuit

Company describes hiring process, says it's gotten about a million applications for software and systems engineering jobs since 2010

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Robert Scoble (CC BY 2.0)

Google, in new federal court papers, is rebutting claims of age discrimination and its handling of two older job applicants who were rejected for positions.

Google insisted in a court filing Friday that its policy "rigorously forbids discrimination of any kind," including age discrimination. It is fighting an age discrimination lawsuit brought last year by two plaintiffs who were rejected for jobs. Both are over the age of 40.

One plaintiff, Cheryl Fillekes, a programmer, filed a motion in June to make this age discrimination lawsuit a "collective action" case for software engineers, site reliability engineers or systems engineers over the age of 40 who applied for a job at Google, but where rejected. That could broaden the case to include thousands of people.

Specifically, Fillekes' motion asks the federal court in California to require Google to provide the names and contact information of engineering applicants who have applied for a job since Aug. 13, 2010, received an in-person interview and were refused employment.

But Google said it has received "over one million applications" for those three positions since 2010. It didn't disclose how many people who applied for one of these jobs received an in-person interview.

The job application figure for the three types of technical positions involved in Google's lawsuit is an estimate made without regard to age, said Google, "because there is no systematic or reliable way of identifying applicants who were 40 or more years of age when they submitted applications or interviewed in-person since Google does not collect data on the age or birthdate of its applicants."

In her lawsuit, Fillekes said that she was recruited by Google four times, in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013, and in each instance was invited for an in-person interview and rejected each time. Fillekes earned a Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of Chicago and undertook postdoctoral work at Harvard.

But Google questions why it would "waste Google employees' time" with "five or six onsite interviews only to reject the candidate on the basis of age." Fillekes' age was allegedly discerned at her first in-person interview with Google in 2007.

Google argues in its motion that neither Fillekes nor the other plaintiff, Robert Heath, "offers a coherent theory" or "substantial evidence" to back up their claims.

In an email response to a Computerworld query, Fillekes' attorney, Daniel Low, said that the "courts have recognized that a party seeking conditional certification of an opt-in class bears a very light burden in establishing that the legal requirements for certification are met, and we believe that plaintiffs have met that lenient standard here."

Google said it conducts a "rigorous technical evaluation" of potential candidates for the three engineering jobs.

The process works like this: Google identifies a "promising candidate" from among the applications. Recruiters conduct a phone interview to assess the candidate's interest in a job and their current roles and responsibilities.

If the candidate passes the initial interview, the person is invited to a "Technical Phone Screen." The interviewers, who are engineers, present the candidates "with a series of technical challenges related to computer code or systems design, and the candidate responds -- for instance, by proposing an algorithm or a piece of computer code."

Candidates who pass the technical interview may be invited to on-site interviews, which may consist of four or five separate in-person interviews. Google says it tries to match candidates with interviewers who have expertise in relevant areas. These interviewers also "test a candidate's proficiency with algorithms and system design."

The recruiting team then evaluates the interview scores, notes and comments and decides whether the candidate should be reviewed by the hiring committee. Hiring committees "are usually comprised of at least four experienced Google employees who have the relevant skillset to assess a candidate," Google said.

Google claims that Heath, a software engineer, did not pass the technical test, and wasn't invited to an in-person interview. But it is Fillekes, not Heath, who has filed the collective action.

Google also disputed the contention that the average age of its workforce is 29. That number, included in the lawsuit, is based on a Payscale analysis, which is compared to a U.S. government report that puts the average age of computer programmers at 42.8.

Google is dismissive of the Payscale age estimate, but didn't offer an alternative. Instead, it said that U.S. data shows "workers age 40 or older are not as available as younger workers" because job tenure increases with age.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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