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BLOG: Silicon Valley's 'meritocracy' hides a discriminatory streak

Bill Snyder | Jan. 17, 2014
The latest evidence: Oracle is sued by a sales manager who says he was fired for refusing to pay less to IT workers from India.

Is it naive to believe that we're past the days of paying less to people who aren't white? And would it be too cynical to believe that a manager who stands up for a prospective employee is making a career-busting mistake? Sadly, the answer to both questions appears to be no when we're talking about Oracle.

Those are heavy charges, and they're contained in a lawsuit against the company filed this month by Ian Spandow, a former sales manager who claims he was fired for complaining about Oracle's hiring policies, which he says are "discriminatory."

For the record, Oracle declined my request for comment, and to my knowledge has made no public statements about the case. Spandow and his attorney, Clarice Liu, also did not respond to my requests for comment, so I'm relying on statements made in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

In a nutshell, Spandow says he tried to hire a very well-qualified Indian for a sales job but was told he could pay the man only $50,000, a sum well below what other new hires for similar positions were offered. That "would be good money for an Indian," Spandow claims his boss said. When Spandow complained, he was unceremoniously fired.

Why should you care? Silicon Valley sets itself apart from the rest of the economy by claiming that it is transforming the world. It's not just different -- it's better. Merit and results matter, nothing else.

Or so it claims.

The Valley and the rest of the IT-related industry certainly is a font of innovation, but it also exhibits an anachronistic lack of opportunity for women, African-Americans, and other minorities. What's more, this bastion of innovation has historically imported large numbers of techies from India and other countries under the flawed H-1B visa program and paid them less than the prevailing wage.

And because unions are practically nonexistent in the Valley, opening one's mouth about a sensitive subject can mean instant dismissal.

"Good money for an Indian"
Spandow, a native of Ireland who was working at Oracle on an L-1 visa, joined the company in 2005, trained hundreds of sales reps and managers, and was quickly promoted. In 2012 he was named a senior regional sales manager. Spandow says he exceed sales quota and won a number of company awards.

In September 2012, Spandow sought approval to transfer an Oracle employee from India to California, saying the man (his name has been withheld from the court filings) had a successful track record during his seven years with the company. That's when things got weird.

Spandow suggested the man be paid what recent "Caucasian" hires had been offered, but was told he should make a substantially lower offer. "He knows everyone on the team, and will of course, know what they earn within days of arriving," Spandow then wrote in an email to his boss, Ryan Bambling. "Moreover, he has 6+ years Oracle experience ahead of them."


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