A US agency investigating Facebook Inc’s racial bias in hiring and promotion has designated the investigation as “systematic.” Lawyers for three job applicants and a manager who claimed that the company discriminated against them told Reuters on Friday.
A “systemic” probe means the agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, suspects company policies may be contributing to widespread discrimination.
The EEOC typically resolves disputes through mediation or allowing complainants to sue employers. But agency officials designate a few cases “systemic,” enabling investigators to rope in specialists to analyze company data and potentially bring a broader lawsuit representing entire classes of workers.
Facebook operations program manager Oscar Veneszee Jr. and two applicants denied jobs brought a charge last July to the EEOC, and a third rejected applicant joined the case in December. They have alleged Facebook discriminates against Black candidates and employees by relying on subjective evaluations and promoting problematic racial stereotypes.
The name of the EEOC probe has not been reported before.
EEOC has not yet filed charges against Facebook. The investigation may last for several months and may not lead to the discovery of inappropriate behavior. The agency declined to comment.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone declined to comment on the status of the investigation or specific allegations, but said that “providing a respectful and safe working environment for all employees is of utmost importance.”
“We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case,” he said.
Gupta Wessler attorney Venezee and candidate’s representative Peter Romer-Friedman said that the European Economic and Cooperation Organization (EEOC) introduced systematic investigators in August last year. And in the past four months, we have received detailed notifications from both sides.
Employment law firms Mehri & Skalet and Katz Marshall & Banks are also helping workers.
Lawyers for the two companies said that the Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington offices of the European Economic Community were also involved.
Covington & Burling, a lawyer for Facebook, did not respond to a request for comment.
For the largest technology companies in the United States, growing ethnic and gender diversity has always been a challenge they face, and these companies sometimes blame the lack of qualified candidates for underrepresented groups. However, skilled workers have become bolder and have to challenge this notion publicly, claiming that in formal complaints, biased hiring practices will create gaps.
Romer-Friedman said he and his colleagues told the EEOC in a submission last month that one such Facebook policy is awarding employees bonuses of up to $5,000 when a candidate they refer is hired. Referred candidates tend to reflect the makeup of existing employees, disadvantaging Black professionals, he said.
Facebook said about 3.9% of its U.S. employees as of last June were Black.
David Lopez, a former EEOC general counsel now teaching at Rutgers University, said that systemic investigations are significant because of the additional resources involved. When they result in allegations of wrongdoing, multimillion-dollar settlements sometimes follow, he said, citing recent cases against Dollar General Corp and Walmart Inc.
In the year ended last Sept. 30, 13 of the 93 EEOC merit lawsuits were systemic, according to agency data.
Last December, the Justice Department accused Facebook of discriminating against U.S. workers broadly, saying it gave hiring preference to temporary workers such as H-1B visa holders.
Alphabet Inc’s Google last month agreed to spend $3.8 million to settle U.S. government allegations that it underpaid women and unfairly passed over women and Asians for job openings.