back to article US Labor Dept accuses CIA-backed Palantir of discriminating against Asian engineers

America's favourite Big Brother-backed unicorn, Palantir Technologies, is being sued by the US Department of Labor (DoL) for alleged discrimination against Asian job applicants. Announcing the lawsuit, the DoL says it wants to “end the company’s alleged discriminatory hiring policies and practices.” The department has the …

  1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    I can understand a little bit of bias

    If the complainants aren't American Citizens (Or are very recent citizens), I can understand some reticence in hiring them. Planatir regularly works for the various intelligence agencies and would be looking to avoid having spies in their midst and might just be over-reacting to the minuscule possibility of that happening (there seems to be a lot of that mentality going around lately...).

    Of course, I'd like to know what their definition of "Asian" is in this case (Does it include folk with ancestors from the Arabian Gulf region? The Indian Sub-continent? Pacific Islands? What about Russia? Baltics? Or is it just the Far East region?)

    1. roknich

      Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

      When slavery was 'ended" and railroads needed workers, many Asians were brought to the US. Since then, California has had a large Chinese population, long before Silicon Valley.

      This is purely racial discrimination, and the DOJ Civil Rights division might have had standing, IMO.

      I think they stand a better chance than Jeffery Sterling. https://theintercept.com/2015/06/18/jeffrey-sterling-took-on-the-cia-and-lost-everything/

    2. Notas Badoff

      Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

      Indeed, the examples of what is 'Asian' are definitely needed for clarity. As I read the detailed complaint, Dept of Labor don't seem to qualify 'Asian' at all . That's really annoying.

      Given the current geopolitical realities, heck given the recent convictions and cases made against certain national actors, there is going to be a higher bar for specific nationalities. Sorry folks, we're not all just folk.

      Filipino, Malay, Indonesian, Pacific Islander, Thai, Indian, Pakistani, Singaporean, Japanese, Vietnamese... are all Asian nationalities. That's a really wide range. Hmm, what am I missing? Umm, yeah, you know and you know why...

      BUT... reading the detailed complaint, the numbers do look really bad. (Sorry, having to type this in cuz PDF won't copy-n-paste easily cuz it's a graphic copy):

      "For the Software Engineer position, from a pool of more than 1,160 qualified applicants -- approximately 85% of whom were Asian -- Palantir hired 14 non-Asian applicants and only 11 Asian applicants. The adverse impact calculated by OFCCP exceeds five standard deviations."

      "For the QA Engineer Intern position, from a pool of more than 130 qualified applicants -- approximately 73% of whom were Asian -- Palantir hired 17 non-Asian applicants and only four Asian applicants. The adverse impact calculated by OFCCP exceeds six standard deviations."

      That's going to be really really hard to 'normalize'.

      Hmm, could they plead customer requirements? That the positions where for particular projects were the 'customer' specified really high security? PDF mentions lots of non-discrimination points. Could the company interject 'security' as an overriding consideration?

      1. Sirius Lee

        Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

        Surely there is a statistic here that is revealing: 85% of the 1,160 applicants were Asian. Why so few non-Asian applicants?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

          Because there are Asian companies that specialized in monitoring such job offers... and they have a large pool of applicants. It's a business in itself. The DoL should have also a look at those hiring practices... but of course lowering wages is good for corporate USA, isn't it?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

        I'd need to know the the specific breakdown within the category ethnic "Asian." Anyone with a Chinese lineage is problematic from a security clearance standpoint. Fact, sadly. [My brother-in-law is ethnic Filipino-Chinese. Col(Ret), US Army MI).] That might be key in which case the DoL might have to sue the rest of the US Government starting with OPM, or whoever is doing security clearance now.

    3. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

      There should be no discrimination as such between "natural born" US citizens and naturalized citizens however recent. A citizen is a citizen. If that is a requirement for hire, as often is the case where defense or national security is involved it should be enough at the first pass. If the applicant is seeking a position that requres a security clearance, any relevant questions about when an applicant became a citizen, or how, can be answered connection with necessary background investigation.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

      Given the numbers (and the dev tools Palantir uses, as far as I know), IMHO most of those "Asians" were actually "Indians".

      And I can't really blame Palantir for probably hiring only the really skilled ones, and not the ones with "very high skills" on paper, but no real ones - I would like to know how the DoL measured "skills" - in my experience what people write on paper means very little - I learned you have to put them through real tests to understand who's really skilled.

      They are probably a company with enough money and security needs that doesn't really need the average cheap Mumbai developer who applied through the usual Indian company which harvest job offers to make money importing "developers". Which probably is also the one that complained with the DoL because it couldn't get its share of money.

    5. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      The yellow peril

      Palantir apparently has vacancies worldwide but I presume the U.S. Department of Labor only has authority over their hiring in the U.S. I assume that would be U.S. citizens only, because at least technically to hire an immigrant to work in the U.S., you need a visa that declares that you can't fill the job by hiring a citizen. However, if there is someone from elsewhere that Palantir really wants to hire, they can just employ them at a foreign site. (I'm not a lawyer.)

      Therefore, this is about Asian American candidates.

    6. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

      yeah, and particularly if referrals are involved, maybe existing employees don't know that many people of "asian" descent. It can happen.

      As for me I think Chinese girls are *HOT* so I'd perhaps have a few *more* 'Asian' friends than average, but there ya go... heh heh heh

      Referrals are the best way to find quality employees, AND to land yourself a position. "What color is your parachute" mentions that early on, as I recall.

      The H.R. "screening" process is *THE* biggest problem in landing a tech job. H.R. dweebs don't know TCP from UDP, except as terms on a 'screener sheet', and you KNOW that THE most junior member of H.R. is the one that's shafted with the 'resume screening' duty. If you said "implemented datagram-based protocol" on your resume as one of the things you've done, and didn't say "UDP", and "UDP" was on the screener sheet, your resume hits the '/dev/null' bin and that's it.

      And front-loading a resume with buzz-terms and jargon, JUST to get past the clueless H.R. screeners, makes it TLDR and boring (so hiring managers glaze over and miss important stuff).

      And don't EVEN get me started on how they treat the older, experienced people. "You're too close to retirement", then quietly forgotten and dropped in the dustbin.

      And what about REVERSE DISCRIMINATION? This can go on indefinitely, propping up lawyer income and tying up courtrooms and making [virtual] ink.

      As for the definition of 'Asian' in this case...

      I don't know what's wrong with the term 'Oriental'. That refers to S.E. Asia and the pacific island region in the IO and West Pacific, aka "The Orient". Saying 'Asian' instead is, of course, "misleading" but supposedly is a "politically correct" (*SPIT*) term for 'Oriental'. So, we just "assume", right?

    7. Mark 65

      Re: I can understand a little bit of bias

      The irony would be if the alleged discrimination were actually some kind of requirement put upon them by their Government customer base. That wouldn't surprise me after a couple of cases a few years back of Chinese agents employed in sensitive work places.

  2. roknich

    The Old Order Changeth

    I wish them luck trying to push this through the courts between now and January 20. This will be an interesting test of the "Double Government" theory. We'll see what types of bureaucratic efforts manage to continue after an election.

    Having seen this pattern enough, I really have to wonder if it's just another knowingly futile gesture, of a Democratic administration doing just enough to prove it's Democratic, and not really enough to make a difference.

    Obama is the master of duplicity, he has been a wolf in sheep,s clothing from the start, and has done it in style without actually lying (about most things).

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: The Old Order Changeth

      I kinda think Obama might be someone who would support an anti-racist bias endeavor, considered that he is, y'know, not white and has had a bit of experience being discriminated against.

      And what exactly the wolf in sheep's clothing is about puzzles me. He's mostly seen as a sheep in sheep's clothing, isn't he? He's hardly been the most effective Prez there's ever been.

      Also, lies. About what? It's an easy smear and yet facts never follow.

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Ridiculous

    They accept all members of the same Harvard fraternity that they went to, who are sons of members of the same fraternity and whose fathers are currently in the same country club - totally without considering skin color

  4. ecofeco Silver badge

    Good ol boys?

    Shocked I tell you.

    Not.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Palantir" is presumably a reference to the Tolkien's Palantír. Besides being disgustingly pretentious, it would also seem to suggest that the founders of the company have fully absorbed the ethics of the Lord of the Rings. If that is the case, a little bit of institutional racism would not surprise me in the slightest: Tolkien's books are full of the racist, classist, and sexist attitudes. Simply being born an orc, or having a bit of orc ancestry makes you a bad person (or even worse, not-quite-a-person), with the possibility of redemption not even being worthy of consideration. If you are a servant, you will remain a faithful servant, and be happy about it. If you are high-born (i. e. your parents were rich and powerful), then great things await you. And so it goes on and on.

    1. h4rm0ny

      True in many ways, but counterpoint - the heroes who save the day are a group of four small farmers who nobody takes seriously and whose 'noble ancestry' consists of one of them having a great grandfather who allegedly cut the head off a goblin and two others belonging to a family notorious for causing trouble.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I always find funny when someone reads epic works like LotR with the lenses of actual "political correctness", often showing very little knowledge of the actual work.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        "I always find funny when someone reads epic works like LotR with the lenses of actual 'political correctness', often showing very little knowledge of the actual work."

        well, "political correctness" (*SPIT*) deserves to be burned, buried, forgotten, moved to /dev/null, and left to rot. In hell. (just don't rot near me, I don't want MY place in hell to be stunk up by political correctness)

    3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Well, Tolkien did grow up in and was a part of the British class system.

  6. Buzzword

    Maybe they just weren't very good?

    The lawsuit alleges Palantir routinely eliminated Asian applicants in the resume screening and telephone interview phases, even when they were as qualified as white applicants.

    Throwing out Asian names at the CV ("resumé") stage would indeed show discrimination; but why would the company waste time with telephone interviews if they knew they weren't going to hire them?

    1. Mike Shepherd
      Meh

      Re: Maybe they just weren't very good?

      Although it's not clear from the article, they may have poor English (revealed in telephone conversation). This could be a justifiable basis for rejection.

      Some poor English speakers are "fluent" i.e. speaking at high speed but with weird grammar and pronunciation, which makes them difficult to understand. Many people (native speakers and others) seem unable to moderate their accustomed speech to make it clear to a wide audience.

      Unless the candidate is a genius in their field, I know from experience that I'd rather work with a native speaker than be distracted by the need constantly to translate what they say.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    What about security ?

    If this company is supposed to hire people to work on National Defense projects and need to be vetted and cleared for high-level security, is it all that surprising that the company tended to not consider applicants from outside the country ? Especially these days, in the current global climate of suspicion and racial hatred that permeates the news continually.

    And saying that the pool of applicants was >70% Asian does not mean that the people hired should have included 70% of Asians. That is not a criteria.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uk anyone?

    I agree that just because people from certain parts of the world relentlessly pound any job to the tune of 70% plus of the applications doesnt mean they should make up 70% of the workforce.

    Though in fact in a lot of cases its more lol.

    Anyway I have noted something curious when looking at a job with a preference for certain security qualifications including GIAC: Global Information Assurance Certification.

    Couldn't see one testing centre for the exam within 300 miles of london and the south east.

    No idea if a GIAC is good/bad or easy and may be something that a corridor pounding security guard has to have but rest assured if would make it difficult to bother with if you had to make a 600 mile round trip to do an online proctored exam up north . Its not 1990 after all.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Goose Gander

    Knowing a couple companies owned or operated by "Asians" ( Indians) I know this to be a kettle pot issue. Doesn't mean we should change our laws but we should require the same from other countries and communities, which would reveal how others from other countries and cultures think about hiring.

    As one co-worker from India pointed out his moral hiring duty was to hire family members first. It would not be acceptable to give a job to a white or North American while a family member was having to do without. Then his hiring responsibility would be to people from his community, the part of India they were from, then other Indian's and Asians (but only from certain groups and countries).

    He said it is what everyone does. I pointed out that in this country we do not and to look around the company he works for. His response was more fool us and not to expect his company to return any such favours as he felt morally bound to discriminate when it comes to hiring.

    I think the West with it's high minded ideals is a very good thing and has helped put us in silk slippers but if those ideas are valued we should be alert to the sound of wooden shoes.

  10. oneeye

    Talk about discrimination

    There was a recent study of major universities for high tech, and largely in California, where foreign, Asian students with lots of money were flooding these schools. So much so, that Citizens were being shut out of even a chance to go to these schools. And there are lots of other reverse discrimination issue in all kinds of places in the US these says.

    What the Labor Dept. needs, is a big boot in the A$$, and I suspect it's on the way. This lawsuit will go away quietly, just watch.

    1. rjc555

      Re: Talk about discrimination

      "The Obama administration alleges that Palantir discriminated against Asians. But it has to admit that Palantir, in fact, hired many Asians — 11 out of 25 software engineers, for example. The government does not even bother to claim that Palantir deliberately excluded Asians. Rather, it argues that since only 44% of Palantir’s software engineers are Asian, but 85% of the applicant pool was Asian, Palantir must, statistically, have discriminated against Asians."

      That's massive discrimination right there, how dare they not hire exclusively Asians! And no, this has nothing to do with the fact that co-founder Peter Thiel came out in support of a certain presidential candidate.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019