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Facebook, U.S. reach $14M settlement on hiring discrimination claims

By Don Jacobson
Facebook, U.S. reach $14M settlement on hiring discrimination claims
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington, D.C., on October 23, 2019. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Social media giant Facebook on Tuesday reached a $14 million settlement with the U.S. government over accusations it discriminated against American workers in its hiring practices.

Under separate agreements reached with the departments of justice and labor, Facebook will pay a civil penalty of $4.75 million to the government and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims of the alleged discrimination.

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In a lawsuit filed last year by the Trump administration, the company was accused of abusing labor programs such as the permanent labor certification program, also known as PERM, to hire temporary H-1B visa holders for high-paying positions.

The program allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently in the United States provided they certify that there are not sufficient U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to accept the job.

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The government alleged, however, that during 2018 and 2019 Facebook "routinely reserved jobs for temporary visa holders" and systematically discouraged U.S. applicants for the positions.

Earlier this year, the Labor Department conducted an audit of Facebook's pending PERM applications to determine compliance and "identified potential regulatory recruitment violations." Officials said they sought additional information from Facebook about the findings.

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"Facebook is not above the law, and must comply with our nation's federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement. "Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status."

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Under the settlement, Facebook also agreed to do more widespread advertising for its PERM positions.

"While we strongly believe we met the federal government's standards in our permanent labor certification (PERM) practices, we've reached agreements to end the ongoing litigation and move forward with our PERM program, which is an important part of our overall immigration program," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement issued to CNBC.

"These resolutions will enable us to continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the U.S. and around the world, and supporting our internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence."

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The accusations of discrimination were among a series of heavily publicized challenges facing the $1 trillion company in recent weeks.

In testimony before lawmakers this month, whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist for the company, said Facebook's platforms, including Instagram, "harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy."

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She claimed the platforms' algorithms can quickly steer children from safe content like healthy recipes to content about eating disorders and that Facebook "knows that content that elicits an extreme reaction from you is more likely to get a click, a comment or a re-share."

On Oct. 4, Facebook and its Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger services went offline for several hours as the result of a what it called a "configuration" change by someone at the company.

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