Sacked Google worker awarded €110,000 for unfair dismissal

Former senior manager claimed executive chairman Eric Schmidt altered staff ranking

A former senior manager at Google in Dublin claimed staff rankings were being altered to fit a ‘bell curve’ template.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

A former senior manager at Google in Dublin claimed staff rankings were being altered to fit a ‘bell curve’ template. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Tue, May 20, 2014, 19:04

A sacked Google worker who claimed the company’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt personally interfered with staff rankings has been awarded €110,000 by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

Rachel Berthold, a former senior manager at Google in Dublin, was awarded the compensation after the tribunal rejected Google’s defence that it had dismissed her on competency grounds.

The tribunal said it was “not satisfied that fair procedures were used” and it ruled her dismissal was “procedural unfair”.

The tribunal dismissed a claim by Ms Berthold that she was entitled to an award under minimum notice legislation, pointing out that she had received payment in lieu of notice.

In her evidence to the tribunal last March Ms Berthold had claimed Google had a “unique” system of comparing performance of staff groups worldwide, in which each unit’s ratings were assessed by their likeness to a template “bell curve”.

Because of this, she said staff were ranked from one to five and someone at Google always had to get a low score “of 2.9”, so the unit could match the bell curve. She said senior staff “calibrated” the ratings supplied by line managers to ensure conformity with the template and these calibrations could reduce a line manager’s assessment of an employee, in effect giving them the poisoned score of less than three.

Ms Berthold told her counsel Christina Daly, instructed by Ewan Murtagh of Whelan Murtagh Solicitors, that she was present when the ranking of a staff member was reduced electronically by Mr Schmidt.

“It came from him,” she said. “ I saw it with my own eyes.” She said Mr Schmidt could not have known anything about the employee.

Ms Berthold said a reduced rating could block the payment of an employee’s bonus, affect their chances of transferring within the global company and curtail their chances of promotion.

Ms Berthold told the tribunal she began to get lower rankings herself and felt she was being unfairly treated by her London-based superior Anne-Catrin Sallaba. She said she was working very hard, but came to believe she “was Catrin’s 2.9”.

Deirdre Lynch of solicitors Matheson, representing Google, had claimed the process of terminating Ms Berthold’s employment had been thorough with a performance expectation programme, followed by a performance improvement programme and two final written warnings.

The determination issued by the tribunal said “it was claimed by the respondent (Google) that it is a fair dismissal and that it was linked to competency and the Tribunal does not believe this”.

The tribunal also found there was no evidence that Google “considered any other option than termination. Furthermore the tribunal is not satisfied that fair procedures were used and therefore it is procedurally unfair”.

The hearing was held over three days in May and July 2013, and March this year.