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    Facebook biased against Black workers, complaint says

    WASHINGTON — An Black manager and two job applicants who were rejected by Facebook filed a complaint against the company Thursday, alleging that the social media giant is biased against Black employees in evaluations, promotions, pay, and hiring practices.

    The complaint, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in employment, is the latest salvo in mounting tensions over how Facebook handles issues of race.

    Facebook has said in the past that it is working to promote diversity and inclusion.

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    ‘‘We believe it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment. We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case,’’ spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement about the lawsuit.

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    More than 500 advertisers are boycotting the platform for what they say is a failure to control divisive and hateful content, and employees have protested chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave up a racially divisive post by President Trump that many interpreted to be a call for violence against protesters in Minnesota.

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg will meet with at least three civil rights groups on Tuesday after their organizations led an advertising boycott of the social media giant.

    The Facebook executives will meet with Anti-Defamation League Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Greenblatt; Color of Change President Rashad Robinson; and Derrick Johnson, chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a Facebook spokesman confirmed.

    Two years ago, a Black executive quit in frustration over the company’s treatment of its Black employees, who constitute less than 4 percent of the social network’s roughly 45,000-member workforce. His complaints were echoed by other Black workers the following year.

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    The EEOC complaint is being brought by Oscar Veneszee, a 46-year-old operations program manager and decorated 23-year veteran of the Navy whose job was to help recruit veterans to the company. It is also being brought by two Black workers whom Veneszee recruited but the company chose not to hire, despite what the lawsuit says were qualifications above those stated for the positions they applied for.

    Corporate America has been shaken in recent weeks as protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis erupted and helped trigger new examination of diversity and prejudice in the workforce. Silicon Valley in particular, with a primarily white and Asian workforce, has come under fire for its treatment of workers of color and a general lack of diversity.

    The complaint against Facebook alleges a pattern of discrimination and bias against Black employees in evaluations, promotions, pay, and hiring practices.

    It takes aim at standard recruiting practices in Silicon Valley, including a strong reliance on ‘‘culture fit,’’ which means that fellow employees and managers heavily weigh whether the applicant fits in culturally, and the practice of having existing employees, who are predominantly white and of Asian descent, conduct recruiting and peer evaluations. These practices, the complaint says, result in biased outcomes such as curtailing opportunities for advancement and higher pay for people who don’t fit the mold.

    Eighty-seven percent of Facebook’s workers are either Asian or white, a racial makeup that is on par with other Silicon Valley companies, according to the company. Black workers constitute 3.8 percent. They make up 1.5 percent of Facebook’s workers in technical jobs and 3.1 percent of senior leadership — a number that has barely budged despite Zuckerberg’s acknowledgments of a diversity problem.

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    Veneszee said in an interview that when he moved to California to work for Facebook three years ago, he was thrilled to make the jump from a longtime career in the Navy to a job recruiting other veterans to join one of the world’s most powerful technology companies.

    Knowing he would be one of few Black employees working at the company’s sprawling campus in Menlo Park, Calif., he figured he would be underestimated and have to work harder than other people to prove his worth, he said. He referred to it as an expectation of par-for-the-course discrimination known as ‘‘the Black tax’’ in corporate America.

    ‘‘I knew I would have to pay that Black tax,’’ he said. ‘‘I knew that was the armor I had to wear.’’

    But then the George Floyd protests came and outrage exploded at Facebook over the company’s decision to keep up a post by Trump that appeared to call for violence. Advertisers began to boycott the company.

    After complaining internally about discrimination for several years, Veneszee said it was time speak out about his experience.

    In his three years at Facebook, Veneszee says he never had a Black person evaluate him. He says he was reprimanded when he offered a fellow recruiter a suggestion to include more historically Black universities in her recruitment plan for new interns.

    During one evaluation, a manager disclosed that another colleague had asked whether he was trustworthy because he seemed ‘‘slick,’’ he said in an interview. The manager, a white woman, seemed unaware that the comment could be viewed as racist because it built upon stereotypes of Black criminality.

    Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.