Workday wants racially biased recruitment algorithm claims thrown out

Case is without merit, finance and HR SaaS vendor insists

HR and financial management software vendor Workday has moved to dismiss a class action case which alleges it produced a screening system resulting in racial bias.

The SaaS company says the case is without merit after it was accused in February of building algorithms that have resulted in bias against Black applicants in their 40s.

The lawsuit was filed at the Northern District Court of California, alleging Workday "unlawfully offers an algorithm-based applicant screening system that determines whether an employer should accept or reject an application for employment based on the individual's race, age, and/or disability."

The class action complaint [PDF] – which seeks to represent other applicants who may have been affected – stems from the alleged experience of Derek Mobley, a Black man over 40 who suffers from anxiety and depression. Court documents state that since 2018, Mobley has applied for 80-100 positions at companies that use Workday as a recruitment screening tool.

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

Workday's lawyers this week moved to dismiss the complaint for legal reasons in papers [PDF] filed with the court. These include that the plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and for failure to "exhaust administrative remedies," meaning they did not exhaust all the potential remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a lower body.

The court documents also state: "[The] Plaintiff fails to explain how whatever practice he is challenging would work to create a disparity concerning any protected class [group protected by anti-discrimination laws]. He alleges no causal mechanism at all other than the unspecific suggestion that customers could theoretically import subjectivity or bias into their use of Workday's tools."

Workday has applied for its motion to be heard by a judge in September.

A Workday spokesperson told The Register: "We believe this lawsuit is without merit. As stated in the motion to dismiss filed on July 17, the complaint is completely devoid of factual allegations and assertions that support the claim."

In a statement issued to us in February, Workday said it was "committed to trustworthy AI" and acts "responsibly and transparently in the design and delivery" of its 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," a spokesperson added. ®

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