THE DEPARTMENT OF Labor’s increasingly heated dispute with Google over a gender pay gap began, innocently enough, with a routine audit.

As a federal contractor, Google must comply with the US government’s nondiscrimination and affirmative action statutes. In 2015, Google’s number randomly came up for inspection by the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs, a division of the Department of Labor that audits government vendors on their diversity practices. Google turned over a “snapshot” of employment data, including job title, gender, race, salary, bonuses, and incentives for about 21,000 workers located at its headquarters in Mountain View, California, that year. During the audit, however, the agency found “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” according to testimony from a DoL official.

But a pay gap does not necessarily indicate discrimination, and Google said its own internal annual analysis on pay equity shows no gender pay gap. So in order to determine whether the agency’s findings were the result of unlawful practices, the Department of Labor asked for more data. For a year or so, Google complied with the agency’s requests, but last June the agency asked for another huge haul of compensation data—notably salary histories for 25,000 employees dating back to when they first joined Google. That time, the tech giant balked. So in January 2017 the DoL sued Google to hand over the data.

On July 14, the judge issued a decision in the case. The order, which has yet to be finalized, denied the government’s request on salary histories but instructed Google to hand over another “snapshot,” this time from 2014, which will include employment data on 19,500 employees located at Google’s headquarters that year.

After the decision, Google posted an update about the case on its company blog, highlighting critiques from the judge’s 43-page report, including comments that the DoL’s theories were based on “speculation” and that the agency had not “accurately understood” how Google’s compensation policies worked. Google also noted that it will only have to provide contact information for up to 8,000 employees, not 25,000 (the total number of employees from the 2014 and 2015 snapshots).

Janet Herold, a regional solicitor for the OFCCP, tells WIRED that this is Google in active spin mode. Through its media outreach and conversations with reporters, the company is confusing both the press and its own employees, she says.

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