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Lawsuit alleges Workday's AI enables hiring bias

An older Black man with a disability is accusing Workday's technology of hindering his pursuit for employment, claiming its AI is biased. Workday says the lawsuit has no merit.

A lawsuit has been filed against Workday by a man claiming its AI software enables discrimination against people who fit his profile: Black, disabled and over the age 40.

In a complaint filed this week in the U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., Derek Mobley said that he has applied for some 80 to 100 jobs at various employers that he believes use Workday software. "He has been denied employment each and every time," the lawsuit alleges.

Mobley received a bachelor's degree in finance from Morehouse College, a historically Black men's liberal arts college in Atlanta, and an associate degree in network systems administration from ITT Technical Institute, according to the lawsuit.

The Workday screening tools "allow its customers to use discriminatory and subjective judgments in reviewing and evaluating employees for hire," the lawsuit alleges.

"If an individual does not make it past these Workday screening products, he/she will not advance in the hiring process," it claims. The lawsuit is seeking class-action status.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has expressed concern about applying AI to hiring decisions. Last month, the agency held a hearing on the benefits and risks of using AI in hiring.

The agency said it plans to step up its education efforts on AI and the "potential for unlawful bias so that these systems do not become high-tech pathways to discrimination," said Charlotte Burrows, EEOC chair, in a statement last month. The EEOC has not brought any lawsuits against vendors alleging AI technologies facilitate hiring discrimination.

Workday defends itself

In an emailed statement, Workday said, "We are committed to trustworthy AI and act responsibly and transparently in the design and delivery of our AI solutions to support equitable recommendations. 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."

This lawsuit is without merit.

A Workday spokesperson said, "This lawsuit is without merit."

The lawsuit alleges that AI systems and screening tools "rely on algorithms and inputs created by humans who often have built-in motivations, conscious and unconscious, to discriminate."

It claims the screening system "disproportionately disqualifies African-Americans, individuals over the age of 40 and individuals with disabilities from securing gainful employment." The lawsuit said that Mobley suffers from anxiety and depression.

In a blog post in December, Kelly Trindel, head of machine learning trust at Workday, described how the firm was building ethical AI systems.

Workday has faulted its own hiring of Black talent and vowed to improve representation. In 2020, after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, it reported that less than 3% of its workforce is Black, as opposed to the U.S. population of about 13% Black.

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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