Facebook has agreed to pay penalties totaling more than $14 million under a settlement with the Justice Department over findings that the company’s hiring practices intentionally discriminated against Americans in favor of foreign workers, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The social-media behemoth has also agreed in a settlement with the Labor Department to do more to recruit Americans for technology jobs and be subject to federal scrutiny for up to three years, the officials said.
The agreements came after the Justice Department sued Facebook in December for allegedly failing to properly advertise at least 2,600 jobs—and consider applications from U.S. citizens—before offering the spots to foreigners whom the company was sponsoring for green cards granting permanent residency in 2018 and 2019.
The lawsuit said Facebook’s practices violated federal laws that require employers to demonstrate that there are no qualified U.S. workers available before offering positions to temporary foreign workers they are sponsoring.
Facebook has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $4.75 million to the U.S. government and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims of Facebook’s alleged discrimination, which officials said was the largest monetary settlement of its kind under the anti-discrimination provisions in U.S. immigration laws.
Officials said the Justice Department will work with the company to determine potential victims. But they said it was too early to know how many people might be eligible for damages.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with the nation’s federal civil rights laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department’s civil rights division. “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status.”
U.S. officials said Facebook also has agreed to train staff on federal anti-discrimination requirements. For the next three years, the Labor Department will audit the company’s petitions for temporary visa holders under the federal government’s permanent labor certification program.
Facebook said in a statement that the company believes it “met the federal government’s standards” under federal law but agreed to settle the case “to end the ongoing litigation and move forward.” Company officials noted that the number of jobs referenced in the Justice Department’s suit represented a fraction of Facebook’s workforce. The company ended the second quarter of this year with more than 63,400 full-time employees globally and 3,000 job openings, company officials said.
The settlements with the federal government “will enable us to continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the U.S. and around the world, and supporting our internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence,” the company said in the statement.
Yet the $14 million fine underscores how Facebook and other tech giants can’t escape the increased scrutiny of their businesses that began under the Trump administration.
The Justice Department’s initial lawsuit against Facebook highlighted long-running tensions between the former president and tech companies over their reliance on high-skilled, foreign workers.
The industry is largely more aligned with the Biden White House on immigration, especially after he reversed course on many of Trump’s policies. But the settlement reflects a growing focus among Democrats on the ways that tech giants are potentially harming American workers. Labor Department Solicitor Seema Nanda emphasized that her agency is willing to enforce the law “no matter an employer’s size or reach.”
Facebook, in particular, tried for years to increase the ranks of high-skilled foreign laborers in the United States, including programs such as the H-1B visa, to power their highly technical operations.
In its complaint in December, the Justice Department said the company eschewed its traditional hiring process in cases where it wanted to hire an employee on an H-1B visa for a permanent position. When a temporary visa holder sought such a job, Facebook “diverged from its normal recruiting protocols,” according to the government, opting in some cases against “advertising the position on its external website.”
If a U.S. worker applied for one of these jobs—and Facebook determined they were qualified—the company appeared to hire them in a different capacity, the lawsuit found. Federal law generally only allows a company to sponsor a temporary worker for a permanent position in cases where there is no qualified U.S. applicant.
The record-breaking penalty will have little impact on Facebook’s bottom line, as the company generated about $29 billion in revenue in the second quarter of this year alone.
But the increased federal scrutiny of its hiring practices comes as the company is already battling myriad regulatory threats in Washington. The Biden administration has signaled a tough line on regulating the tech giants, with the administration nominating some of the companies’ largest critics to key positions.
The Justice Department is playing a central role in those efforts, with an existing antitrust lawsuit against Google and scrutiny of other tech giants, including Apple. Biden’s nominee to run the department’s antitrust division, Jonathan Kanter, is a prominent critic of huge technology companies.
Facebook is already fighting a Federal Trade Commission antitrust lawsuit, which was initially brought under the Trump administration and refiled earlier this year under the agency’s new chair, Lina Khan, a longtime critic of big tech companies.
Lawmakers are increasingly threatening to regulate the company following revelations from a former employee about internal company research on the detriments of its products.
Lawyers representing that employee, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, have made at least eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission.