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Feds reach settlement with Facebook over discrimination claims against U.S. workers

The Justice and Labor Departments say they've reached "historic" agreements with Facebook over what they allege were hiring practices that discriminated against U.S.-based workers. 

In December 2020, during the Trump administration, the Justice Department accused the tech giant of abusing labor programs, like the the permanent labor certification program (PERM), and discriminating against American workers. The department claimed in a lawsuit that Facebook was recruiting and hiring temporary visa holders, rather than U.S. workers, for over 2,600 high-paying positions. It said Facebook was reversing its usual employment practices and "sought to channel (jobs) to temporary visa holders."

Facebook, the department alleged, "used recruiting methods designed to deter U.S. workers from applying to certain positions," adding, "Facebook's hiring process for these positions intentionally discriminated against U.S. workers because of their citizenship or immigration status, in violation of the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)." 

The Justice Department said in its lawsuit that Facebook would advertise a job opening that attracted hundreds of American applicants, but permanent jobs filled by foreigners had little to no American candidates. In some cases between the January 2018 - September of 2019 period at issue, Facebook allegedly chose to only accept applications for these positions by mail, instead of its usual electronic application process. Further, these positions were advertised differently than other positions not set aside by Facebook for temporary visa holders. On average, the annual salary for these positions was around $156,000.

Under Tuesday's agreement, Facebook will pay a $4.75 million to the U.S. and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims of Facebook's alleged discrimination. The company must also train its employees on the anti-discrimination requirements of the laws in question. 

"Facebook will be required to conduct more expansive advertising and recruitment for its job opportunities for all PERM positions, accept electronic resumes or applications from all U.S. workers who apply, and take other steps to ensure that its recruitment for PERM positions closely matches its standard recruitment practices," the Labor and Justice Departments announced. 

On a call with reporters, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division said the settlement was historic in that it represents the largest fine and monetary award that the Division has recovered in the 35-year history of the anti-discrimination provision.

"Facebook is not above the law," Clarke said, adding, "Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders" because of their immigration status.     

Labor Solicitor Seema Nanda also spoke with reporters and said that employers like Facebook must first engage in "good faith recruitment" of U.S.-based workers before turning to the temporary visa population to fill positions. 

A system by which alleged victims can submit their claims against Facebook is also set up in the agreement, a U.S. official added. 

In a statement to CBS News, a Facebook spokesperson said, "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. 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." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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