A new law governing the use of A.I. in hiring may trigger lawsuits

December 10, 2021, 8:24 PM UTC

A new basic income pilot program is launching in MLK’s old neighborhood, Black CMOs have a new playbook for inclusion, and the world has lost a culture legend. All that, and Jonathan Vanian on new legislation aimed to curb A.I.-based discrimination in hiring.

But first, here’s your busted-ugly Confederate statue week in review, in Haiku.

The night they drove
old Nathan down; his Wizard
face once splashed with pink,

long accustomed to
the catcalls and bird flips from
passing motorists.

“You ugly racist!”
Not even Forrest himself
could disagree with

that pointed feedback.
Spare a thought for Bill Dorris,
Confederate troll,

history’s fool, friend
to a millionaire dog, and a
legacy denied

Wishing you a historically accurate weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In brief

There may be more discrimination-related lawsuits coming in the near future thanks to a recently passed New York City bill governing the use of artificial intelligence in hiring.

One of the major implications of the bill, which New York's city council passed in November and has now "lapsed" into law, is that companies will be required to disclose to job candidates whether they used A.I. in the recruiting process. This means that job recruits will now be able to learn whether companies they applied to used A.I.-powered hiring software that study people’s facial movements or analyze voices during job interviews, among other tasks.

This is a big deal because it could provide people some transparency when it comes to learning why they weren’t hired, explains Christine Webber, a civil rights attorney for plaintiffs’ firm Cohen Milstein. She believes that there haven’t been many A.I.-related employments lawsuits filed against companies because people are typically unaware that the technology may have been used on them.

“People don't know what's going on,” Webber said. “They don't come and complain, ‘Hey, a computer denied me a new job.’”

For people of color, knowing whether A.I. was used to determine if they were a good fit for the job could be revelatory. After all, facial recognition software is widely known to not work as well on women and people of color as white men.

Webber brought up the scenario of a company using A.I.-powered facial recognition software that looks for facial cues and “micro expressions” during job interviews that could lead hiring managers to believe a person is deep in thought and therefore may make a better candidate than others. An example may be a person furrowing their brow, creating a little crease in their forehead.

Putting aside whether or not it’s even possible to deduce a person’s fit for the job by using A.I. to scan their face (there are many critics of this kind of use of the technology), Webber noted the potential problem that such a task would pose for people of color.

“It's really important to be able to see the crease in everybody's forehead,” she said.

In the chance that a company does use such technology during the hiring process, people of color will finally get more details about why they may have been overlooked for a role, at least those who live in New York City.

The A.I.-related hiring law isn’t expected to come into effect until 2023, which gives companies some time to evaluate the technology they currently use. But other states could pass similar laws, Webber said, also noting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also taking a tougher look at this kind of hiring software.

Either way, Black and brown people in New York City have something to look forward to: more information about how A.I. is used on their communities.

“New York is a large city, it’s a diverse city, so there's a chance that somebody is going to be turned down for a job and thinks it’s discrimination and now they know there’s A.I.,” Webber said.

“I feel like it gives us a chance whereas before, there just wasn't opportunity,” Webber said regarding people bringing up A.I.-related hiring lawsuits. 

Jonathan Vanian 

On point

CMOs prepare to tackle corporate diversity  Black marketing executives from major brands who are part of the Black Executive CMO Alliance (BECA) have launched a new mentorship initiative designed to help guide mid-career Black talent into senior and C-Suite roles: The BECA Playbook. “The BECA Playbook embodies one of our four pillars–pay it forward—to which our members and sponsoring organizations have wholeheartedly shown their commitment,” says Jerri DeVard, BECA founder and independent board director. “In supporting our mission, they have committed their time and resources into building a stronger pipeline of Black leaders ready for the C-suite.”
Black Enterprise

A new guarantee income pilot aims to support poor Black women in Georgia  In Her Hands is an initiative of GiveDirectly and the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity (GRO) Fund, and is set to begin next year. It will distribute about $850 a month in cash, with no restrictions to an initial cohort of about 650 women. The two-year program is now poised to be one of the largest guaranteed income initiatives in the U.S. The program chose Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, where Martin Luther King Jr.’s family lived, which currently experiences some of the most pronounced racial income inequality in the country.

Losing Greg Tate Hip hop and culture fans are mourning the loss of Greg Tate, an iconic writer, critic, historian and chronicler of the rich wellsprings of Black creative life. His work at the Village Voice helped elevate hip hop and street art to the level of high culture. His obituary writers have all tried to live up to his soaring prose, a labor of love. “His writing froze and shattered time, supercharged neurons, unraveled familiar knots and tied up beautiful new ones. It contained uncanny, elevated descriptions of sound and performance, offered grounded philosophical inquisitions and sprinkled in wink-nudge personal asides,” says Jon Caramanica. Sigh. More below.
The New York Times

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Rachel Lobdell.

Mood board

Steven Spielberg seen on location for 'West Side Story' in Washington Heights on August 4, 2019 in New York City.
James Devaney—GC Images

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