By Kirsten Grind and Douglas MacMillan I The Wall Street Journal
A former employee alleges tech firm set quotas for hiring minorities
YouTube last year stopped hiring white and Asian males for technical positions because they didn’t help the world’s largest video site achieve its goals for improving diversity, according to a civil lawsuit filed by a former employee.
The lawsuit, filed by Arne Wilberg, a white male who worked at Google for nine years, including four years as a recruiter at YouTube, alleges the division of Alphabet Inc.’s GOOGL 1.19% Google set quotas for hiring minorities.
Last spring, YouTube recruiters were allegedly instructed to cancel interviews with applicants who weren’t female, black or Hispanic, and to “purge entirely” the applications of people who didn’t fit those categories, the lawsuit claims.
A Google spokeswoman said the company will vigorously defend itself in the lawsuit. “We have a clear policy to hire candidates based on their merit, not their identity,” she said in a statement. “At the same time, we unapologetically try to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for open roles, as this helps us hire the best people, improve our culture, and build better products.”
People familiar with YouTube’s and Google’s hiring practices in interviews corroborated some of the lawsuit’s allegations, including the hiring freeze of white and Asian technical employees, and YouTube’s use of quotas.
Mr. Wilberg’s lawsuit, filed in January in California’s San Mateo County Superior Court, alleges that Google discriminated against him for his sex and race, retaliated by firing him when he complained, and in the process violated antidiscrimination laws. Mr. Wilberg declined to comment through his attorney.
The lawsuit highlights the tension facing the technology industry as it tries to boost minority hiring, a stated goal of many large companies, including Google. It also threatens to ignite simmering controversy about Silicon Valley’s politics and whether its predominantly liberal ideology is affecting how companies operate.
Google in particular has found itself in the middle of the gender debate following dueling lawsuits in January, one that alleged the company discriminated against women, the other claiming discrimination against conservative white men. The latter suit was filed by plaintiff James Damore, an engineer who was fired from the company last year for distributing a memo that suggested men were better suited to certain tech jobs than women.
Google has said it disagrees with the allegations in those suits.
Mr. Wilberg, 40, alleges he complained to multiple managers at YouTube about its hiring practices over the past two years, and elevated those complaints to Google managers before he was ultimately fired last November.
Employers are allowed to undertake initiatives to promote diversity hiring, employment lawyers say. But under Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law, employers aren’t allowed to make hiring decisions based on race and gender among other protected classes.
That means they can’t employ practices like hiring quotas based on race or only hiring one type of minority candidate, attorneys say. Such practices would also run afoul of California laws.
Google’s internal website says “there is no such thing as a ‘diversity headcount’” at the company, according to one employee. The site also says it has a small program that allows hiring managers to bring on candidates from underrepresented groups.
Silicon Valley has faced public scrutiny over the amount of diversity in its workforce.
The technology industry is more white (68.5%) than the overall U.S. private-sector workforce (63.5%), according to data collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014.
Women make up about 30% of employees at leading tech companies in Silicon Valley, while they account for about 49% of workers at non-tech firms in the same region.
About 69% of Google’s employees last year were men, down 1 percentage point from 2014, the company said. The portion of Google’s workforce that is white or Asian has remained at 91% since 2014.
Google recruiters are responsible for identifying candidates, but hiring decisions are ultimately up to hiring committees, according to Google.
YouTube has about 23,000 employees, according to an estimate by networking site LinkedIn Corp. Alphabet had 80,110 full-time employees at year-end, according to a company filing.
YouTube has its own group of roughly 20 recruiters, with a separate Google team overseeing all operations, according to the complaint and people familiar with YouTube’s and Google’s hiring practices.
The lawsuit filed by Mr. Wilberg and people familiar with the hiring practices allege that since at least 2016, YouTube recruiters had hiring quotas or targets for “diversity candidates,” including black, Hispanic and female candidates.
For example, in the first quarter of 2016, recruiters were expected to hire five new employees each, all of them from underrepresented groups, the lawsuit alleges.
Recruiters used what was known internally as a “diversity tracker,” to track minority hiring, the people familiar with hiring practices at YouTube and Google said.
For the week of March 20, 2017, for example, the team tracked a year-to-date goal of 21 African-American hires, with one actually hired in that period, according to an internal YouTube email attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit.
Mr. Wilberg alleges his performance reviews suffered after he declined to adhere to YouTube’s diversity hiring goals.
In the spring of 2016, Google’s human-resources department launched an investigation into YouTube’s hiring practices, interviewing each recruiter, the lawsuit alleges. The investigation appeared to be ongoing through the end of 2017, the lawsuit alleged.
YouTube allegedly tried to cover up the hiring practices in two instances, according to the complaint and a person familiar with the matter.
In January 2016, Mr. Wilberg alleges, he was told in a meeting that YouTube had to “clean up” its diversity hiring practices, and that managers deleted all email messages about those goals.
Sometime in mid-2017, YouTube told recruiting staff to stop tracking the number of hires from minority groups and instructed them not to make hiring decisions based on diversity status, according to the lawsuit and a person familiar with the matter.
—Yoree Koh contributed to this article.