WASHINGTON – The Justice Department sued Facebook Thursday, accusing it of being un-American in favoring foreign workers with visas over those from the United States in a renewed crackdown on tech companies in the dwindling days of the Trump administration.
In the complaint, the department’s civil rights division said Facebook “has refused to recruit, consider, or hire qualified and available US workers for more than 2,600 positions with an average salary of $ 156,000.” According to the complaint, these jobs went instead to immigrant visa holders.
The action followed a two-year investigation into whether Facebook intentionally preferred the so-called H1-B visa and other temporary workers with a migrant background over US workers, the Justice Department said.
“Our message to workers is clear: if companies deny job opportunities by temporarily favoring temporary visa holders, the Department of Justice will hold them accountable,” said Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Our message to all employers – including those in the technology sector – is clear: You cannot illegally prefer to hire, consider, or hire temporary US visa holders.”
Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, said, “Facebook has been working with the DOJ to investigate this issue and while we deny the allegations in the complaint, we are unable to comment on any pending litigation.”
Bipartisan anger in Washington has increased in recent years against Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple – some of the world’s most valuable companies – for data breaches, the spread of disinformation and other toxic content on their platforms, and complaints about anti-competitive practices harming consumers and small businesses .
Regulatory authorities and lawmakers have been searching for possible monopoly violations on Facebook for months. The Federal Trade Commission and dozens of states are preparing antitrust lawsuits against the social network to maintain its power through amalgamations of emerging competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp. They are expected to announce plans for legal action soon, those briefed on the cases have said.
The discrimination lawsuit before an administrative judge opens up another front in Washington’s battle against big tech. Although President Trump only stabbed companies this week when he threatened to lift language liability protections on internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it is the first time the government has taken legal action to break down prejudice against the Claims employment of immigrants.
Skilled worker visas in the tech industry have been at the center of the debate for a decade. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM and other companies have been campaigning for the expansion of H1-B visas for years, arguing the importance of attracting the best engineers from overseas, especially from China and India. Critics have called the Visa program a crutch for tech companies to overlook US-born talent and attract foreign workers to lower wages.
Mr Trump has been a vocal critic of temporary work visas. In October, his government announced new rules for the H1-B program that will significantly increase the wages US companies must pay for foreign recruitment and limit the eligibility criteria for applicants.
The Justice Department has rarely sued tech companies on the matter, although other agencies have accused the companies of racist or gender bias. In 2016, the Ministry of Labor sued data firm Palantir for bias against Asians. The Department of Labor separately sued Google for disclosing data on attitudes based on gender, race, religion and sexual orientation.
Economy & Economy
Apr. 11, 2020, 6:16 pm ET
According to his complaint, the Justice Department found that between January 1 and September 18 last year, Facebook routinely tracked H1-B and other immigrant temporary workers on a permanent basis that was not available to U.S. citizens. Facebook also used less effective methods to advertise positions for U.S. workers, including refusing to advertise the positions on Facebook.com/careers, the department said.
The attitude highlighted by the complaint made up just 0.5 percent of Facebook’s 50,000 employees. However, the Justice Department said Facebook has violated federal labor law, which requires employers to make permanent employment opportunities as easily accessible for U.S. workers as they are for foreign visa holders.
“Facebook’s discriminatory recruiting and hiring practices are routine, persistent and widespread,” the complaint said.
Mark Zuckerberg, the executive director of Facebook, has fought for years to have immigrants fight for immigrants’ right to work in the US tech industry. In 2013, he and several friends founded Fwd.us, a nonprofit group that campaigned for a revision of immigration laws and to make the immigration process easier for technicians.
The problem has been a source of friction between Mr Zuckerberg and Mr Trump. In 2015, Fwd.us executives marveled at Mr Trump’s immigration proposals that would have restricted the H-1B visa for qualified foreign-born employees. They claimed that the plan would “radically restrict” the routes for immigrant technicians.
When Mr Trump signed an executive order in 2017 to limit immigration from Muslim-majority countries, Mr Zuckerberg spoke out against it.
“We have to protect this country, but we should do it by focusing on people who actually pose a threat,” he said in a post on his Facebook page. “We should also keep our doors open to refugees and those in need. This is us. “
Kim Clarke, an attorney at Varnum who advises employers on immigration and labor issues, said the Justice Department’s lawsuit could have a chilling effect on hiring technicians.
“In the long run, if broader technology companies fail to recruit the skilled talent they rely on, their competitive positions will be compromised,” said Ms. Clarke. “The trickle-down effect of this measure could also affect smaller employers who only hire a handful of foreign workers.”
Cecilia Kang reported from Washington and Mike Isaac from San Francisco.