Lawyers for three job applicants and a manager alleging that the company discriminated against told Reuters on Friday that a US agency investigating Facebook over racial bias in hiring and promotions had classified the investigation as “systematic.”
The “systematic” investigation means that the agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, suspects that company policies may contribute to widespread discrimination.
The EEOC usually resolves disputes through mediation or permits complainants to sue their employers.
But agency officials classify some cases as “systematic,” enabling investigators to gather specialists to analyze company data and possibly file a broader lawsuit representing entire categories of workers.
Facebook operations director Oscar Veneszee Jr and two applicants denied their jobs last July to EEOC, and a third rejected presenter joined the case in December.
They claimed that Facebook discriminates against black candidates and employees by relying on self-assessments and promoting problematic racial stereotypes.
The designation of the EEOC probe was not previously reported.
EEOC has not made any allegations against Facebook. Achieving them, which could last for more months, may not yield unlawful results. The agency declined to comment.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment on the status of the investigation or specific allegations, but said that “it is essential to provide a respectful and safe work environment for all employees.”
He said, “We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case.”
Peter Romer Friedman, attorney at Gupta Wessler who represents Veneszee and job candidates, said that EEOC had brought in regular investigators by last August and had received detailed briefing papers from both sides over the past four months.
Employment law offices Mehri & Skalet and Katz Marshall & Banks help workers as well.
Lawyers for the companies said the EEOC offices in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington were involved.
Facebook’s attorneys, Covington & Burling, did not respond to a request for comment.
Increasing ethnic and gender diversity has been an ongoing challenge for the nation’s largest tech companies, which have sometimes blamed a shortage of qualified candidates from underrepresented groups.
But tech workers have dared to challenge this idea publicly and claim informal complaints that biased hiring practices cause disparities.
Romer Friedman said he and his colleagues told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a report last month that one of these Facebook policies awards employees up to $ 5,000 when hiring a candidate they refer.
He said that referred candidates tend to reflect the composition of the current employee, to the detriment of black professionals.
Facebook said that about 3.9% of its American employees as of last June were black.
David Lopez, a former EEOC general counsel who now teaches at Rutgers University, said systematic investigations are important because of the additional resources involved. And when they result in allegations of wrongdoing, he said, millions of dollars in settlements sometimes follow, citing recent cases against Dollar General Corp. and Walmart Inc.
In the year ending September 30, 13 of the EEOC’s 93 merit lawsuits were regular, according to agency data.
Last December, the Justice Department accused Facebook of widespread discrimination against American workers, saying it was giving preference to temporary workers such as H-1B visa holders.
Alphabet Inc’s Google Inc. last month agreed to spend $ 3.8 million to settle US government claims that it is paying low wages to women and unfairly bypassing women and Asians for employment opportunities.