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‘I felt like I was singled out.’ Two people who claim racial bias at Facebook describe their experiences

March 23, 2021, 8:30 PM UTC

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Oscar Veneszee Jr. was excited when he and his wife both landed jobs at Facebook in 2017. Veneszee, a military veteran of 23 years, was hired to recruit more veterans into the company and work on retention programs that would help the new employees stay on board. It was an area Veneszee knew well, having done similar work for the Navy.

But despite glowing comments from his managers and colleagues, Veneszee, who is Black, said he regularly received subpar reviews, reducing his opportunity for promotions and end-of-year bonuses.

“I’ve never seen someone get that kind of praise for the work they’ve done and then get pretty mediocre ratings,” he said. “I felt like I was singled out.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this month said it will investigate a complaint Veneszee and two Facebook job applicants filed in July, according to the complainants’ lawyer. The charge claims that the company discriminates against Black workers and candidates. The EEOC recently labeled its investigation a “systemic probe” aimed at determining whether Facebook’s policies reinforce racial discrimination at the company. 

In response to the probe, Facebook said in a statement: “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.”

This isn’t the first time Facebook has been accused of discriminating against workers. Late last year, the Department of Justice sued the tech giant for favoring workers from overseas who had temporary visas, over U.S. candidates who generally earn more. Additionally, in 2017 the EEOC found that Facebook had let companies that ran job ads on its service exclude older workers from seeing them.

Facebook also has made relatively little progress in terms of hiring and promoting Black employees. In 2020, Black employees held 3.9% of all roles at the company, up from just 2% six years prior. The percentage of Black representation drops to 3.4% in Facebook’s leadership.  

Veneszee, now a strategic partnership manager who has yet to be promoted, said Facebook’s culture regularly preaches that workers should be their “authentic selves.” But he said that wasn’t the case for him.

“I’m very careful about how I move and talk because I’ve been accused of being aggressive,” he said.

Another complaint filed late last year may add more fuel to the EEOC’s investigation. The complainant, a Black Facebook job candidate, alleges she was not hired because of her race and instead was humored and humiliated. 

The candidate, who insisted on remaining anonymous as she continues to seek other job opportunities, said she applied for the job because it was related to a poverty-relief program she had helped create at another organization. She also has three degrees from Ivy League schools and 15 years of related experience.

But almost as soon as the interview process started, the situation began to devolve, she said. In an early video interview, one of the first things a Facebook manager told her was she wouldn’t enjoy working at the company because she had a “big brain.” When she advanced to the next stage, she was told that as part of the standard procedure she would receive a prep call from someone at Facebook to let her know what to expect ahead. But that call never came.

Then when she arrived on-site at Facebook’s headquarters for an in-person interview, she was left waiting for an hour before being told numerous times by managers that the company was particularly interested in hiring someone with a good “culture fit,” a phrase some interpret as meaning White and male. Topping off the visit, she was taken to the company cafeteria for a bowl of lentils by her would-be boss and then was sent packing without having answered a single job-related question. 

“At this point you realize you’re being humiliated,” she said. “It was like I checked a box.”

After attempting to put the bad experience behind her, she reached out to the team two more times, aiming to apply for lower-level positions. Both times she never heard back.

“No one comes out and says, ‘We’re not hiring you because you’re Black,’” she said. “They do things like mention things you can’t possibly measure, like culture fit.”

The claim that Facebook systemically discriminates against Black people is not new, even if the EEOC probe is. Mark Luckie, a Black former Facebook manager, sent a memo to his colleagues shortly before leaving the company in 2018. In it he said, “Facebook has a Black people problem.”

Included in the memo is a claim that Facebook racially discriminates against Black employees, with Luckie echoing Veneszee’s experience at the company: “I’ve heard far too many stories from Black employees of a colleague or manager calling them ‘hostile’ or ‘aggressive’ for simply sharing their thoughts in a manner not dissimilar from their non-Black team members,” he wrote. “To feel like an oddity at your own place of employment because of the color of your skin while passing posters reminding you to be your authentic self feels in itself inauthentic.”

The EEOC’s investigation could take months, but the complainants hope the charges they filed will help Facebook employees and future job candidates.  

“I feel it’s my duty and responsibility to ensure I’m sounding the alarm,” Veneszee said. “I don’t feel me or anyone else at the company deserves to be treated that way.”

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