Behavioral Design Algorithms Show Promise and Peril in Hiring

A new technology has the potential to both reduce and exacerbate illegal bias in hiring.

The New York Times has reported that two start-up hiring platforms, Applied and Pymetrics, have created algorithms using  artificial intelligence and neuroscience games that can level the playing field for gender, ethnic and socioeconomic representation.

Age discrimination also is illegal but it was not mentioned. This despite considerable evidence  showing that employers currently are systematically discriminating against older workers by using computer software to screen out their resumes and divert them to a digital trash can.  Research shows that older women are the most severely affected by hiring discrimination.

Spokespersons for Applied and Pymetrics said behavioral design algorithms  are capable of analyzing hiring factors that are more predictive of performance and less biased than traditional resume screening tools. The algorithms are tweaked until men and women and people of different ethnic backgrounds get similar scores to qualify for hire. A spokesperson for Applied cited a large test in which over half of the people that were hired would not have been were it not for the platform. A  Pymetrics spokesperson said the company has been highly successful in improving gender, ethnic and socioeconomic representation for clients like Accenture and Unilever.

The behavioral design companies say the technology is equally capable, in the wrong hands, of magnifying hiring bias.

Age discrimination in hiring is arguably one of the most important issues of our time. Yet, as the Times story indicates, the problem is  invisible. Most major corporations do not consider age to be a diversity issue. While they compile gender and minority hiring statistics, they do not keep records of age in hiring.  The EEOC has ignored age discrimination in hiring for more than a decade and even lags behind the business community in comprehending the significance of implicit age bias in hiring for “cultural fit.”  

In August, the director of the EEOC Office of Federal Operations, Carlton M. Hadden, Jr., issued at least two decisions finding no discrimination in cases where highly-qualified applicants aged 60 and 48 were passed over for much younger applicants (including recent graduates) with far few objective qualifications.  Hadden completely discounted the significance of superior objective qualifications in the hiring process.  Then, in September, the EEOC filed a lawsuit claiming a group of CBS television stations in Dallas, TX, engaged  in age discrimination in hiring  by failing  to consider the superior qualifications of a 42-year-old female weather caster and, instead, hiring a 24 year old woman for the job. Given these confused outcomes, it’s anyone’s guess how the EEOC will decide an issue involving implicit age bias in hring.

EEOC Secrecy Rule Hides Procedural Irregularities and Gross Unfairness

Note: About a week after this story was written, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against a Texas television station because it allegedly failed to consider qualifications when it rejected a 42-year-old  female applicant for a position as a weather person. This lawsuit completely contradicts the EEOC’s decision in the case below, where the EEOC said the employer did not discriminate when it failed to consider the 60-year-old female superior qualifications and instead selected five applicants under the age of 40, many of whom were recent law school graduates.

A recent decision by the EEOC raises questions about whether the secrecy surrounding the EEOC’s handling of discrimination complaints hides serious procedural irregularities and basic unfairness.

EEOC spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown has said that federal law “prohibits EEOC employees from confirming or denying the existence of charge filings, investigations or administrative resolutions.  The only time information about a specific case becomes public is if EEOC files a lawsuit against the employer, which is usually a last resort.” This means that complaints and documents associated with the EEOC’s adjudication of complaints are secret – except in the rare instance when the EEOC files a lawsuit or a complainant objects publicly (and someone listens) to the EEOC’s handling of her complaint.

The EEOC’s secrecy rule stands in sharp contrast to the openness of the federal court system. If a complaint is filed in federal court, it is public and so are the documents associated with the complaint, unless the judge enters an order to seal the file. That order can be challenged by the media. Public access to court records serves to insure the integrity of the court system. The EEOC’s closed door rule leaves the public in the dark about the basis for complaints, why the Administrative Law Judge ruled the way h/she did, the context for the OFO’s decision on an appeal of the ALJ’s ruling and why the EEOC chose to affirm or reject the OFO’s decision. With secrecy, the public has no way to insure the integrity of the EEOC’s handling of complaints.

Not only does secrecy fail to insure integrity at the EEOC but it clearly benefits discriminatory corporations and businesses. Their customers never find out about their illegal acts and neither do their employees, who might put two-and-two together and file their own discrimination complaints.  Complainants, who are almost always individuals, may prefer to have their name remain confidential because the mere fact they filed a complaint may make it difficult for them to find new employment. However, this preference can be accommodated through the use of a pseudonym, which is a practice the EEOC already employs when it publishes a precedential decision.

 Secrecy allows the EEOC to evade accountability for misconduct and discriminatory rulings. 

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Federal Courts Criticized for Dismissive Treatment of Employment Discrimination Victims

There is overwhelming evidence that federal courts for years have ignored and marginalized plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases.

Judge Richard A. Posner, one of the nation’s leading appellate judges, recently resigned from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals citing his disgust for the dismissive treatment that his fellow jurists accorded to pro se litigants. The vast majority of pro se litigants are victims of a justice system that is too expensive for all but a privileged few. Most Americans cannot afford to hire an attorney and either must proceed on their own or passively suffer gross injustice. Posner told abovethelaw.com that pro se litigants “deserve a better shake.”

Posner says judges divert the cases of pro se litigants to staff attorneys and then routinely dismiss the case after the employer files a motion for summary judgment.

In addition to Posner, attorneys for the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University School of Law are questioning the high rate of dismissals in lawsuits involving employment discrimination. They filed an amicus brief last month that points to research showing that from 1979 to 2006, the plaintiff win-rate in federal employment cases was only 15%, compared to the 51% success for plaintiffs (a.k.a. businesses) in the non-employment context.

The win rate for victims of employment discrimination was 15% compared to 51% for plaintiffs in the non-employment context.

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce No “Friend of the Court”

Nice to see someone calling out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which frequently inserts itself into national litigation as a “friend of the court.”

In reality, the Chamber is almost always an advocate for a dues paying corporate member and espouses a position that is anti-employee and anti-consumer. In 2014, I argued the Chamber was a federal court lobbyist.

According to Reuters, the firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein has opposed  the Chamber’s request to file an amicus or “friend of the court” brief in a case involving a challenge by Direct TV to the certification of a class action by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.  Lieff’s brief argues the Chamber, the Chamber’s lawyers, DirectTV and Direct TV’s lawyers are bound so closely together that even under a liberal reading of the definition of an amicus curiae, the Chamber cannot legitimately be regarded as a friend of the court.

“The Chamber is not merely a friend of the party, but essentially the party itself.” – Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein

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