On Thursday, multiple people filed a complaint alleging discriminatory hiring and promotion practices that harm Black employees at Facebook.
The complaint, filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, centers the experiences of three individuals ― one current Black employee and two Black prospective employees who were not hired ― to allege the social media company permits a “workplace culture and structure that are hostile to Black people, draw on harmful racial stereotypes, fail to provide assistance to improve their skills, and question them as professionals.”
“There may be Black Lives Matter posters on Facebook’s walls,” the complaint reads, “but Black workers don’t see that phrase reflecting how they are treated in Facebook’s own workplace.”
The filing demands Facebook end racial discrimination ― “not just in society, but in Facebook’s own workplace” ― and requests an investigation by the EEOC into potential civil rights violations at the social media company. The three complainants listed are Oscar Veneszee Jr., a Black operations program manager currently working at the company, as well as Howard Winns Jr. and Jazsmin Smith, two Black job applicants who the filing says are well qualified but were never hired.
I saw quickly that my opinion and my value within the culture was not represented.
Veneszee, a 46-year-old former Naval officer who served decades in the Navy and was a senior official for several years, said he was hired in 2017 to work out of Facebook’s Washington, D.C., office and support its initiatives geared toward veterans. But in Thursday’s filing he claimed the company has assigned him to several different managers in the time since, only recently granted him direct reports to assist him, chastised him for recommending the company do more to connect with historically Black colleges and universities and used the company’s strong emphasis on “culture fit,” a phrase without clear definition, to allegedly deny him and others promotions or job opportunities.
In one instance recounted to HuffPost, Veneszee said a manager who’d helped bring him to the company referred to him as “a slick one” when asked about his job performance. He told HuffPost he interpreted the comment as a management figure using coded language to advance the racist stereotype of Black people being untrustworthy and concerned solely with advancing a personal agenda. Despite reportedly recommending seven qualified candidates for open positions, Veneszee said none of his recommendations was hired.
“I saw quickly that my opinion and my value within the culture was not represented,” said Veneszee, who also claimed in the filing he has heard the N-word uttered in Facebook’s office.
The filing alleges Facebook “arbitrates all racial discrimination and harassment claims in a secret forum where all rulings are ‘confidential and not available to the public,’ while waiving this requirement for certain types of sex discrimination claims,” a policy the complaint says subordinates claims of racial discrimination.
When Facebook employees have tried to voice their concerns publicly, as with an anonymous op-ed written late last year by employees blowing the whistle on racism at the company, Thursday’s filing says the concerned employees have been “mocked, criticized, and investigated for sharing concerns about the lack of diversity and the poor treatment of people of color at Facebook.”
Veneszee and the two other complainants say they see Facebook as a valuable company, but that it has a long way to go to be considered hospitable to Black employees.
“There are some spaces where you can communicate about your real self, to a certain extent,” Veneszee said, “but I think most Black employees realize that you can’t really be yourself. Most people can’t tolerate that.”
This isn’t putting a man on the moon in 1969.
The two other complainants — Smith, 31, and Winns, 30 — both believe they were not hired at Facebook because they are Black.
Smith, who lives in Maryland, applied for several jobs at the company over the past eight years and has not been hired despite receiving “excellent performance evaluations” and meeting all of the minimum and preferred qualifications, according to the filing. She says a Facebook recruiter contacted her after Smith applied for an HR position in April. The recruiter allegedly told her she was well qualified for several positions at the company, but the recruiter also mentioned that people in charge of hiring think “culture fit” was very important for any incoming employees.
Smith wasn’t given a chance to interview for any of the open positions.
Winns was referred by a current Facebook employee for two of the three positions he applied for between March and June of this year. He was invited to interview for one of the three positions, the suit claims, and despite a recruiter and interviewer saying he was a “strong fit” for the role, he was not hired.
“The other Facebook employees who are currently in the same position that Mr. Winns, Jr., applied for have comparable or less experience or education than Mr. Winns, Jr. and all of them are white,” Thursday’s filing says.
“We hope having Oscar speak out publicly like this, in a constructive way, will advance this dialogue both externally and internally, at Facebook,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, Principal lawyer for Gupta Wessler PLLC, the firm handling the complaint.
“This isn’t putting a man on the moon in 1969,” he added. “You can move the needle quickly on hiring and promotions; you’ve just got to double down on the commitment to it and find good strategies to get it done.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.