US agency probes Facebook for ‘systemic’ racial bias in hiring, promotions: Attorneys

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A US agency investigating Facebook Inc. for racial prejudice in recruitment and promotion has classified the investigation as “systemic”. The lawyers for three applicants and a manager who claims the company discriminated against them told Reuters on Friday.

A “systemic” investigation means that the agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, suspects that company policies may be contributing to widespread discrimination.

The EEOC usually resolves disputes through mediation or by allowing complainants to sue employers. But agency officials refer to some cases as “systemic,” which allows investigators to bring in specialists to analyze company data and potentially file a broader lawsuit against entire classes of workers.

Oscar Veneszee Jr., manager of the Facebook operations program, and two applicants denied jobs filed charges against the EEOC last July, and a third rejected applicant joined the case in December. They claimed Facebook discriminated against black candidates and employees by relying on subjective ratings and promoting problematic racist stereotypes.

The designation of the EEOC probe has not yet been reported.

The EEOC has made no allegations against Facebook. The investigation, which may continue for months, may not lead to any findings of wrongdoing. The agency declined to comment.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment on the probe’s status or specific allegations, but said it was “important to provide a respectful and safe work environment for all employees”. “We take all allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case,” he said.

The EEOC called in systemic investigators last August and received detailed briefing papers from both sides over the past four months, said Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney for Gupta Wessler, who represents the Veneszee and the applicants.

The law firms Mehri & Skalet and Katz Marshall & Banks also help the employees.

EEOC offices in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington are involved, according to lawyers for the firms.

Facebook’s attorney, Covington & Burling, did not respond to a request for comment.

The increasing diversity of races and genders has been an ongoing challenge for the country’s largest tech companies, which have at times blamed a shortage of qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. Technicians, however, have encouraged themselves to publicly question this notion, making formal complaints claiming that biased employment practices lead to inequalities.

Romer-Friedman said he and his colleagues told EEOC in a statement last month that such a Facebook policy would give employees rewards of up to $ 5,000 for hiring a candidate they recommend. Recommended candidates tend to reflect the makeup of existing employees and discriminate against black professionals, he said.

Facebook said about 3.9% of its U.S. employees were black last June.

David Lopez, a former EEOC General Counsel who currently teaches at Rutgers University, said systemic research is important because of the additional resources. If they lead to allegations of wrongdoing, they are sometimes followed by multi-million dollar settlements, he said, citing recent cases against Dollar General Corp and Walmart Inc.

In the year ended September 30, 13 of EEOC’s 93 merit suits were systematic, according to the agency.

Last December, the Justice Department accused Facebook of broadly discriminating against US workers, saying it had given preference to temporary workers such as H-1B visa holders.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google agreed last month to spend $ 3.8 million on allegations made by the US government that women were underpaid and women and Asians were wrongly ignored for jobs.