Mobley v. Workday: Amended Complaint Highlights Discrimination and AI Bias in Employment Screening

February 21, 2024
Authored by
Anisha Chadha
Legal Researcher at Holistic AI
Mobley v. Workday: Amended Complaint Highlights Discrimination and AI Bias in Employment Screening

On 20 February 2024, Derek Mobley filed an amended complaint in the ongoing class action lawsuit against Workday, Inc. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, asserts that Workday's algorithm-based applicant screening tools discriminate against individuals based on race, age, and disability.

This follows a dismissal of the lawsuit by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on 19 January 2024, where the judge cited insufficient evidence to classify Workday as an "employment agency" under anti-discrimination laws. The court granted Mobley the opportunity to amend his complaint with a deadline of 20 February to address the deficiencies and provide more specific evidence of intentional discrimination and disparate impact.

What is the Mobley v. Workday lawsuit?

Mobley, an African American, disabled applicant over the age of 40, initially brought the lawsuit against Workday for the following:

  1. Intentional Employment Discrimination:  Mobley asserts that Workday's algorithmic decision-making tools consciously or unconsciously discriminate against African-American applicants, without any business necessity justifying such disparate impact.
  1. Disparate Impact Discrimination based on Race and Disability: Workday's screening tools allegedly systematically screen out applicants based on race and disability and result in disparate impact on African-American and disabled applicants, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.
  1. Age Discrimination: Workday's discriminatory algorithmic tools allegedly demonstrate intentional discrimination and disparate impact, affecting the employment prospects of individuals over the age of 40. This violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects those aged over 40 from age discrimination.
  1. Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981: Workday's alleged actions violate the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which prohibits racial discrimination.
  1. Aiding and Abetting Race, Disability, and Age Discrimination: Mobley claimed that Workday’s AI systems interfere with the employment prospects of individuals belonging to protected classes. The use of discriminatory algorithms aids and abets race, disability, and age discrimination, violating California Government Code §12940(I).

Mobley’s amended complaint against Workday

In the amended complaint, Mobley contends that Workday's artificial intelligence (AI) systems and screening tools rely on algorithms created by humans with inherent motivations, both conscious and unconscious, to discriminate. Specifically, Workday's decision to employ automated systems, rather than human judgment, allegedly results in discriminatory screening against African American, disabled, and/or applicants over the age of 40.

Moreover, the amended complaint asserts that Workday acts as an agent for its client-employers, utilizing its AI tools to make job recommendations and control access to employment opportunities. Workday's subscription-based service is portrayed as an ongoing relationship, where employers delegate their hiring function to Workday, positioning Workday as an agent and indirect employer.

Sought reliefs in the Workday Lawsuit

Mobley is seeking certification of the case as a class action, designating Mobley as the representative of himself and others who are similarly situated:

  • African American applicants facing discriminatory screening
  • Applicants over the age of 40 subjected to discriminatory screening
  • Applicants with diagnosed mental health or cognitive conditions subjected to Workday's branded assessments or personality tests

Additionally, Mobley seeks a declaratory judgment, asserting that the complained practices violate several statutes, such as Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the ADEA, the ADAAA, and Cal. Gov. Code §12940(I).

A critical aspect of Mobley's plea involves obtaining a preliminary and permanent injunction against Workday. This aims to restrain Workday’s officers, agents, and other representatives from engaging in the alleged unlawful policies, practices, customs, and usages outlined in the complaint. Furthermore, Mobley is requesting an order mandating Workday to institute and execute policies that provide equal employment opportunities for all minorities, addressing the repercussions of past and present discriminatory employment practices.

Furthermore, Mobley is seeking monetary compensation in terms of back pay, front pay, and other financial relief, including interest and benefits. The request for damages, including compensatory, nominal, and liquidated damages, is sought as restitution for harm caused by the Workday's conduct.

What are the next steps for Mobley?

The Mobley case remains open, with proceedings scheduled to take place in the California court, and an amended Complaint is expected to address the deficiencies outlined in the Order.

Compliance with Existing Law is Key

The Workday case is not the first lawsuit targeting automated systems used in recruitment. Indeed, the EEOC has recently reached a $365,000 settlement with the iTutorGroup over their programming of software to automatically reject female applicants aged 55 or older and male applicants aged 60 or older. This automated discrimination led to the rejection of over 200 qualified applicants based in the United States solely because of their age, a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).  

Despite the flurry of proposed AI-specific legislation, these lawsuits highlight that existing laws apply to AI systems, and the use of algorithms and automation does not create a legal loophole.

Compliance with new and existing laws is key to avoiding reputational, financial, and legal risks. Schedule a demo to find out how our AI Tracker can help you keep on top of legislation, regulation, and legal action against AI around the world.

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DISCLAIMER: This blog article is for informational purposes only. This blog article is not intended to, and does not, provide legal advice or a legal opinion. It is not a do-it-yourself guide to resolving legal issues or handling litigation. This blog article is not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not provide legal advice regarding any situation or employer.

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