Sacked Google worker says staff ratings fixed to fit template

Tribunal hears of company’s ‘unique’ system of comparing performance of staff

Executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt: Tribunal told of executive’s alleged interference. Photographer: Patrick T Fallon/Bloomberg

Executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt: Tribunal told of executive’s alleged interference. Photographer: Patrick T Fallon/Bloomberg


Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt personally interfered to reduce the rating of a Dublin staff member he knew nothing about, it was alleged at the Employment Appeals Tribunal yesterday.

Rachel Berthold, a former senior manager at Google Ireland who is claiming unfair dismissal from the company, 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.

At the tribunal in Dublin yesterday, she outlined Google’s staff rating system in which employees’ performance was ranked on a scale of one to five. Anyone scoring under three was considered to be underperforming against expectations.

She said 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”.

Poisoned score

Because of this, she said 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.

Senior management in Germany, or elsewhere, could calibrate a ranking to ensure conformity with the template, she said.

Ms Berthold said 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 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 and had successfully introduced a “hot key” initiative which had been made global by the company.

But Ms Berthold told her counsel Christine Daly she came to believe she “was Catrin’s 2.9”.

She said she was put on a targeted “performance expectation programme” and was then put on a “performance improvement programme”. She said employees on this programme could not get a score of more then 2.9, simply because they were on it, and she received final written notice when she was still completing the programme. She was dismissed in May 2009.

Performance expectation

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

She said evidence had been given to the tribunal that Ms Sallaba had been constructive in her assessments and encouraging to Ms Berthold and they had met six times a month for several months on the issue. A full review of the process had been undertaken by Google’s HR manager Neil O’Herlihy, after Ms Berthold had appealed final written notice and Mr O’Herlihy had rejected that appeal.

Ms Lynch said there were two issues the tribunal had to consider. These were how much more time could the company have reasonably been expected to devote to the process; and how much more effort could they put into encouraging Ms Berthold to improve.

The tribunal will publish its judgment at a later date.