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Facebook accused by Black manager of systemic discrimination

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

Facebook Inc. was accused of systemic discrimination in hiring, compensation and promotion of Black people in a complaint to federal civil rights authorities.

Thursday’s complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by an operations program manager in Washington adds pressure on the social network, which is facing an advertising boycott over its failure to remove violent, divisive, racist and discriminatory posts. Along with other major tech companies, Facebook also has been criticized for its lack of diversity.

Oscar Veneszee Jr., a decorated 23-year U.S. Navy veteran hired by the company in 2017 to recruit other workers retired from the armed services, said he filed the complaint after his objections to Facebook managers over treatment of African Americans went nowhere. It was filed as a class action to represent other Black people who’ve experienced discrimination inside the company, as well as those who say they were unfairly denied jobs with the social network.

“The only way to get contributions from Black experience is to have more Black employees at the company,” Veneszee said in an interview. “I think the desire is there, but I don’t think there’s an understanding of what’s required to transition to a company that’s more open, to being diverse, bold.”

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Facebook said, “We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case.”

”We believe it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment,” spokeswoman Pamela Austin said in an email.

Facebook, along with Google and Microsoft Corp., have renewed pledges to prioritize diversity in the wake of nationwide protests and calls to end systemic racism after the police killing of George Floyd. Veneszee said he was motivated to complain to the EEOC in part by recent protests.

“We are really as a country talking about getting it right this time,” Veneszee said in the interview. “As I look at our response, I don’t think it has connected to the pain deep enough in order to develop solutions that are going to be better for us as a company.”

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A recent Bloomberg News analysis of diversity reports published by the world’s biggest tech companies shows that little progress has been made transforming them from a predominantly white and male universe, with Black workers remaining mostly absent from management ranks and underrepresented in technical roles.

Despite success at his job and positive feedback from managers, Veneszee said in the complaint, he was denied promotions, stalled by evaluations that said he merely “meets all expectations” as he ran into hostility and discrimination.

Veneszee described his frustration as a Black employee of a company where, according to Facebook’s own figures, just 1.5% of employees in technical roles in the U.S. were Black in 2019, and 3.1% were Black among senior leadership. Those percentages have barely budged even as the company has added tens of thousands to a workforce that has grown by 400% over the last five years, according to the complaint.

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“There’s really no representation of diversity, of Black employees in mind, all the way across the company,” he said in the interview.

Veneszee recalled being forced to apologize to a white recruiter after questioning a plan for interns that listed only one of the nation’s more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities. He was told the question drove the recruiter to tears. After being routinely told that he must use the right “tone,” he said he came to realize the company is tone deaf toward Blacks.

“Me asking about HBCU shouldn’t make you feel attacked, it shouldn’t offend you if we’re talking about diversity,” Veneszee said. He said it made him feel as if “the way I say things fell on a different set of ears at Facebook.”

An EEOC spokesman said the agency can’t confirm or deny when complaints are filed and said they are handled confidentially.

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Veneszee’s lawyer, Peter Romer-Friedman of the law firm Gupta Wessler, said the alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the complaint should be viewed as an invitation to negotiate.

The complaint seeks an independent monitor to determine whether Facebook is making progress hiring more Black people or whether stronger measures are required, he said.

“We’re trying to extend an olive branch,” the lawyer said in an interview. “Oscar’s not trying to burn down the company from the inside or outside.”


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