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BEERG Newsletter - AI: Californian court asked to rule against Workday

As the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in human resource decision-making becomes more widespread it is inevitable that questions are going to be asked about the values and biases built into the system by human developers. There are also concerns about the historical data that is used to train such systems and whether that data is in itself biased. The upcoming European AI Liability Directive anticipates such situations and will provide methods of redress for those who believed they have been harmed by AI-based decisions.

Last week, saw a court action launched in California which claims that Workday’s artificial intelligence systems and screening tools allegedly disqualify applicants who are Black, disabled, or over the age of 40 at a disproportionate rate.

Derek Mobley, a Black man older than 40 who suffers from anxiety and depression, allegedly applied for 80-100 positions since 2018 that use Workday as a screening tool. He has been denied employment every time, despite him holding a bachelor’s degree in finance from Morehouse College and an associate’s degree in network systems administration from ITT Technical Institute. 

Mobley wants to represent all applicants in those protected classes who haven’t been referred or hired for employment as a result of the discriminatory screening process, according to the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit comes at time when federal agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are pushing for enforcement on AI bias.

Workday provides its screening tools to hundreds if not thousands of companies, the complaint said. The company allegedly allows the preselection of applicants outside of protected categories, and the tools allegedly rely on algorithms and inputs created by humans who often have conscious and unconscious motivations to discriminate. Its administration and dissemination of the screening products “constitute a pattern and practice of discrimination,” the complaint said. Mobley further alleged that Workday marketed tools it knew intentionally discriminated against him and class members in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Mobley seeks injunctive relief that would reform “Workday’s screening products, policies, practices and procedures so that the Representative Plaintiff and the class members will be able to compete fairly in the future for jobs and enjoy terms and conditions of employment traditionally afforded similarly situated employees outside of the protected categories.”

Workday believes the lawsuit is without merit, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company said through a spokesperson. It is “committed to trustworthy AI” and acts “responsibly and transparently in the design and delivery” of its AI solutions, it added. “We engage in a risk-based review process throughout our product lifecycle to help mitigate any unintended consequences, as well as extensive legal reviews to help ensure compliance with regulations.”

We will keep readers informed of the progress of this case over the coming months. It is not the first such case and certainly will not be the last.

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Authors: Tom Hayes

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