Lawsuit Accuses Workday of Discrimination Using AI

A lawsuit revived this week accuses Workday, Inc., which provides applicant screening services to organizations, among other services, of illegally discriminating against potential job candidates based on their race, age, and/or disability.

According to the complaint, Workday processed 2.2 million U.S. job requisition transactions in May 2023 out of the more than 9.8 million job openings reported in the U.S. in the same month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure suggests that for the year 2023, Workday was projected to process more than 36 million requisitions, screen 266 million applications, and make 24 million job offers, says the complaint. This process is done using artificial intelligence (“AI”) tools.

Since 2017, plaintiff Derek Mobley has applied to over 100 positions and has been rejected each time. Each of these positions used Workday as their exclusive screening platform.

The suit asserts that Workday’s AI, built by humans with conscious and unconscious biases, screens out applicants who are African-American, disabled, and/or over 40 years old. It alleges that Workday is either an employment agency and agent of employers who have given it authority to make hiring decisions, or an indirect employer controlling access to employment opportunities. By allowing an algorithm to contribute to hiring decisions that could have “learned” to omit certain demographic characteristics that are often correlated with protected classes, such as zip code, college, or group membership Workday is knowingly discriminating against potential candidates in protected classes.

The complaint references a hiring algorithm Amazon stopped using in 2017 when it found that even though the algorithm was not given applicants’ gender, it was disfavoring applicants who mentioned “women’s” in their resumes or attended all-women’s colleges. The algorithm “learned” to do this because it drew conclusions based on a biased sample of resumes made up mostly of white males.

Workday is accused of allowing its AI tool to decrease the rate at which it recommends candidates in certain protected classes based on its observations of employers disfavoring those candidates in the past.

In Mobley’s case, his resume included his degree from Morehouse, a Historically Black College or University, and a long employment history which could be used to estimate his age. He was also often prompted to take a Workday assessment or personality test which could have been used to identify his depression and anxiety.

The amended class action complaint was filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It accuses the company of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

Additional Reading

Workday accused of facilitating widespread bias in novel AI lawsuit, Reuters (February 21, 2024)

Workday AI Biased Against Black, Older Applicants, Suit Says, Bloomberg Law (February 22, 2023)

Mobley v. Workday Complaint

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