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Complaint alleges that Facebook is biased against black workers

by By Elizabeth Dwoskin

An African American manager at Facebook and two rejected job applicants are suing the company, alleging a culture of bias in promotions, evaluations, hiring and recruiting.

An African American manager and two job applicants who were rejected by Facebook filed a complaint against the company Thursday, alleging that the social media giant is biased against black employees in evaluations, promotions, pay and hiring practices.

The complaint, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that administers civil rights laws in employment, is the latest salvo in mounting tensions over how Facebook handles issues of race.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, although the company has said in the past that it is working to promote diversity and inclusion.

Currently, more than 500 advertisers are boycotting the platform for what they say is a failure to control divisive and hateful content, and employees have protested chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave up a racially divisive post by President Trump that many interpreted to be a call for violence against protesters in Minnesota.

Two years ago, a black executive quit in frustration over the company’s treatment of its black employees, who make up less than 4 percent of the social network’s roughly 45,000-member workforce. His complaints were echoed by other black workers the following year.

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The EEOC complaint is being brought by Oscar Veneszee Jr., a 46-year-old operations program manager and decorated 23-year veteran of the Navy, whose job was to help recruit veterans to the company. It is also being brought by two African American workers whom Veneszee recruited but the company chose not to hire, despite what the lawsuit says were qualifications above the stated requirements for the positions they applied for.

Corporate America has been shaken in recent weeks as protests over the death of George Floyd erupted and helped trigger new examination of diversity and prejudice in the workforce. Silicon Valley in particular, with a primarily white and Asian workforce, has come under fire for its failures in treatment of workers of color and a general lack of diversity.

The complaint against Facebook alleges a pattern of discrimination and bias against black employees in evaluations, promotions, pay and hiring practices. It takes aim at standard recruiting practices in Silicon Valley, including a strong reliance on “culture fit,” which means that fellow employees and managers heavily weigh whether the applicant fits in culturally, and the practice of having existing employees, who are predominantly white and Asian, conduct recruiting and peer evaluations. These practices, the complaint says, result in biased outcomes such as curtailing opportunities for advancement and higher pay for people who don’t fit the mold.

Eighty-seven percent of Facebook’s workers are either Asian or white, a racial makeup that is on par with other Silicon Valley companies, according to the company. Black workers make up just 3.8 percent. They make up 1.5 percent of Facebook’s workers in technical jobs and 3.1 percent of senior leadership — a number that has barely budged despite Zuckerberg’s acknowledgments of a diversity problem.

Veneszee said in an interview that when he moved to California to work for Facebook three years ago, he was thrilled to make the jump from a longtime career in the Navy to a job recruiting other veterans to join one of the world’s most powerful technology companies.

Knowing he would be one of few black employees working at the company’s sprawling campus in Menlo Park, Calif., he figured he would be underestimated and have to work harder than other people to prove his worth, he said. He referred to it as an expectation of par-for-the-course discrimination known as “the black tax” in corporate America.

“I knew I would have to pay that black tax,” he said. “I knew that was the armor I had to wear.”

But then the George Floyd protests hit, and outrage exploded at Facebook over the company’s decision to keep up a post by Trump that appeared to call for violence. Advertisers began to boycott the company.

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After complaining internally about discrimination for several years, Veneszee said it was time speak out about his experience.

In his three years at Facebook, Veneszee says he never had a black person evaluate him. He says he was reprimanded when he offered a fellow recruiter a suggestion to include more historically black universities in her recruitment plan for new interns.

During one evaluation, a manager disclosed that another colleague had asked if he was trustworthy because he seemed “slick,” he said. The manager, a white woman, seemed unaware that the comment could be viewed as racist because it built upon stereotypes of black criminality.

Veneszee also alleges that unlike employees with gender-discrimination complaints, employees of color are required to arbitrate racial discrimination and harassment claims in a secret forum where all rulings are confidential and not available to the public. Such confidentiality clauses were lifted in gender complaints as a result of the #MeToo movement.

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“There may be Black Lives Matter posters on Facebook’s walls, but Black workers don’t see that phrase reflecting how they are treated in Facebook’s own workplace,” according to the complaint, which was brought by Peter Romer-Friedman at the Washington law firm Gupta Wessler.

“Donating millions of dollars to civil rights organizations does not wash away or justify the unfairness, inequality, and hostility that Black workers experience every day at Facebook — when they are turned down for jobs for which they are exceedingly qualified, when they are unfairly evaluated by mostly white peers and managers, when they are denied promotions by overwhelmingly white managers, when they are reprimanded or criticized for sharing their constructive views about diversity, when their lower pay reflects these systemic biases, and when they are assumed to not match the white-dominated ‘culture fit‘ that drives so many employment decisions at Facebook,” the complaint adds.

The two other African Americans that Veneszee recruited who joined the case are Howard Winns Jr. and Jazsmin Smith.

In recent years, Facebook has been accused of having an unwelcoming environment for black employees, even as it and other tech companies have stepped up their recruitment of diverse candidates. In 2018, a black executive, Mark Luckie, resigned after alleging that the company “has a black people problem,” according to an open letter he posted on his Facebook wall.

In the letter, which went viral, he complained about Facebook marginalizing its black users who sometimes use the platform to find a safe space. “Facebook’s disenfranchisement of black people on the platform mirrors the marginalization of its black employees. In my time at the company, I’ve heard far too many stories from black employees of a colleague or manager calling them ‘hostile’ or ‘aggressive’ for simply sharing their thoughts in a manner not dissimilar from their non-Black team members,” he wrote.

Facebook, in a statement at the time, said it is “doing all we can to be a truly inclusive company.”

The following year, some black employees wrote an anonymous letter saying that the problems Luckie described had gotten worse.

And during Facebook’s latest crisis over Trump’s post, black employee groups have taken on the additional responsibility of meeting with Zuckerberg and explaining how the post affected them.

Tech companies are asking their black employee groups to fix Silicon Valley’s race problem — often for free

In 2016, two black employees working at a Facebook data center in North Carolina sued Facebook for racial discrimination, including for being paid lower wages than their non-African American counterparts.

Source: The Washington Post

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