A judge has ordered Oracle and the Labor Department to start talking in person or by phone, instead of trading accusations via email in a wage bias case in which the tech giant is accused of underpaying women and minority workers.
“I have mentioned this before — stop with the invective and contentious email communications, get on the phone or meet in person, and get these issues resolved,” Richard Clark, an administrative law judge in San Francisco, said in a June 26 order.
Clark’s order was in connection with a labor department complaint that said women and minority workers at Oracle lost out on at least $401 million in wages from 2013 to 2016 in what the agency portrayed as systemic discrimination that aso led to the hiring of few African-Americans and Hispanic workers. Oracle has denied the allegations.
The first hearing on the suit, which was filed in 2017, is scheduled to begin in December.
Clark’s order was based on a heated tit-for-tat between the two parties which began in May when, in the process of building its case, the labor department, through its Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, sent a letter to some Oracle employees asking if they would be willing to share their experiences related to the case.
“This lawsuit alleges Oracle unlawfully discriminated against its employees by suppressing the pay of its female, Black, and Asian employees,” the letter which was cited in Clark’s order said. “Based on our analysis of Oracle’s pay data, we have determined that these employees have been underpaid as much as 20% relative to their peers. We estimate that this discrimination cost these employees at least $600,000,000 in lost wages from 2013 to the present.”
The letter said the agency was looking to talk employees “who were affected by this discrimination.”
“We want to hear what happened to you,” the letter said. Among the employees the agency was specifically interested in reaching out to “black and Asian employees employed in product development, particularly if Oracle used your prior salary to set your starting salary, placed you in lower paying positions than your peers or channeled you into lower paying positions throughout your career.”
Oracle blasts ‘misleading statements’
The labor department’s letter triggered an exchange the two parties. Oracle accused the labor department of making “misleading statements” in reaching out to its employees and of using “bombastic rhetoric” in its communications, according to Clark’s order. The labor department fired back by accusing Oracle’s attorneys of “violating ethical rules” and intimidating witnesses.
Clark said the issue could be addressed in in-person meetings or by phone, but he appears to have grown frustrated with what he described as “gamesmanship” by both parties.
He ordered Oracle and the labor department to hold a “meet and confer process, which should be in person or voice communication and not email” to resolve the issue of how they must communicate with potential witnesses in the case.
“An extraordinary amount of resources have been poured into this case,” the judge wrote, stressing the need to resolve a case which has been dragging on for two years.
“It is time to move forward to a resolution,” he wrote. “If Oracle is discriminating against its employees, it needs to end, and the sooner the better. If Oracle is not discriminating against its employees, this litigation needs to end so the parties can move on.”
Oracle declined to comment. The Department of Labor could not immediately be reached for comment.
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