Oracle Women Fought 7 Years for Equity, Only to Win Just an Extra Paycheck or Two

Oracle resolves the pay bias suit with a $25 million settlement, with $15 million of that to be divided among about 4,000 employees.

Bloomberg News

February 16, 2024

4 Min Read
Oracle building

(Bloomberg) — Oracle Corp. female employees who fought the company for almost seven years over gender-pay equity reached a $25 million settlement — a small price for the software giant that amounts to one or two paychecks for most of the women.

The proposed accord filed this week, which requires court approval, would resolve a battle that started in June 2017, one of a series of lawsuits in the last decade accusing tech giants of systematically paying women less than men for the same work.

The case against Oracle was the first in the industry to win class-action status, a milestone never achieved in similar fights against Microsoft and Twitter — and which was taken away from the Oracle employees in 2022 by a California state judge.  

4,000 Employees

Under the deal reached with Oracle America Inc., after attorney bills are paid and a small portion of the proceeds go to the state Labor Department, $15 million would be divided among about 4,000 employees, which includes women who worked in the company's product development, support and information technology departments in California beginning in June 2013.

Oracle didn't respond to a request for comment. In the proposed settlement, the company, which has a market capitalization of about $311 billion, continues to deny the allegations.

Related:Women in IT: Overcoming Adversity, Mentoring Others

The case underscores the struggle that women in the tech sector have faced using the courts to push for equal pay. Class-action status is crucial because it allows plaintiffs to pool resources and negotiate for bigger payouts. But it has been elusive since a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court in 2011 that made it harder for massive employment discrimination cases to move forward.

Google Settlement

Some of the same attorneys representing the women in the Oracle case settled similar claims against Google in 2022 for $118 million on behalf of a group of 15,500 women who had won class-action status the year before.

The average per-person payouts in the Oracle and Google cases — $3,750 and $5,500, respectively, after legal costs — pale in comparison with approximately $50,000 apiece netted by about 2,800 women at Goldman Sachs who reached a $215 million pay equity settlement with the Wall Street titan last year.

Another reference point for the Oracle accord is the US Labor Department's unsuccessful 2017 case against the company. The government was seeking $400 million in back pay for women and minorities, but an agency judge concluded after a trial that the company didn't intentionally engage in pay discrimination.

Related:Women in Tech Is More Than a Corporate Training Exercise

To be sure, the Oracle deal isn't limited to a cash payout. Under the pact, an independent expert would survey the jobs in question and make recommendations to the company to ensure its policies are consistent with equal-pay laws.

James Finberg and John Mullan, lawyers for the plaintiffs, said the work their firms logged over almost seven years exceeded the $8.3 million they're requesting in fees, but emphasized that they didn't want to take away more from the recovery for their clients.

Each woman's actual payout in the accord would vary depending on how much compensation they received during their time at Oracle.

'Excellent Result'

In a court filing Tuesday requesting court approval of the settlement, the lawyers hailed it as an "excellent result" in light of the risks they faced trying to get class status reinstated on appeal and taking the case to trial, as well as the likelihood that even if they won, any payout would be delayed by appeals.

The filing cited in particular the decision by San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Raymond Swope two years ago to reverse his historic ruling in 2020 granting class-action status to the three women who filed the original complaint.

In his reconsideration of the issue, Swope agreed with Oracle that it would be unmanageable to go to trial with a class of more than 3,000 employees in 125 different job classifications.

The company had argued that the lawsuit wrongly compared women and men tagged with the same job codes even though such coding doesn't mean the work requires similar skills, effort or responsibility, because Oracle's products and services vary so widely.

Swope has scheduled an April 8 hearing for preliminary settlement approval.

"As a woman who's spent her entire career in the tech industry, I'm optimistic that the actions Oracle has agreed to take as part of this settlement will ensure more equity for women," Marilyn Clark, one of the named plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Now it's Amazon's turn to face gender-pay disparity allegations. The retailer was hit in November with a proposed class action over claims it pays women less than male employees performing the same or comparable work. The company has denied the claims. The three women who filed the suit alleged this month that Amazon retaliated against them.

The Oracle case is Jewett v. Oracle America Inc., 17-CIV-02669, California Superior Court, County of San Mateo (Redwood City).

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