Shadowy Data-Mining Firm Palantir Hit With Discrimination Suit

By Features PCmag

Big data company Palantir is in trouble with the US Department of Labor.

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The agency this week filed a lawsuit with the Office of Administrative Law Judges, charging the company with discriminating against Asian job applicants. Officials are seeking lost wages, interest, lost benefits, and retroactive seniority to any affected people.

Since January 2010, Palantir allegedly used a hiring process and selection procedure that would make it harder for Asian applicants to get software engineering positions, the complaint reads. In addition, the Labor Department alleges that Palantir's Asian applicants were "routinely eliminated" in the resume-screening and telephone-interviewing processes in favor of white employees.

Finally, the Labor Department says that Palantir used a "discriminatory" employee referral program that made it harder for Asians to get a job.

"The overwhelming preference for referrals, combined with the contractor's failure to ensure equal employment opportunity for all applicants without regard to race, resulted in discrimination against Asian applicants," the complaint reads.

Palantir is one of the most prominent Big Data companies in the technology industry. The company, which was founded in 2003 by former PayPal co-founder and CEO Peter Thiel along with several others, provides software and services to companies and government entities. It currently employs 1,500 people.

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The US government currently uses Palantir's software and services in several departments, including at the FBI, the US Special Operations Command, and the US Department of the Army. The Labor Department's dispute came after a routine compliance review started in July 2011 as part of its assurance process that government contractors are abiding by federal law and contractual obligations.

The Labor Department cited two instances of note. The first found that Palantir had received more than 730 qualified applicants for a quality assurance engineering position, 77 percent of whom who were Asian. Palantir ended up hiring one Asian and six non-Asian applicants.

"The likelihood that this result occurred according to chance is approximately one in 741," the complaint reads.

In the second case, Palantir received 1,160 job applications for software engineering positions, 85 percent of whom were Asian applicants. Of the 25 who were hired, 11 were Asian, a one in 3.4 million chance, according to the Labor Department.

In addition to seeking damages, the Labor Department says Palantir must address the alleged discrimination or lose its government contracts.

"Federal contractors have an obligation to ensure that their hiring practices and policies are free of all forms of discrimination," Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia Shiu said in a statement. "Our nation's taxpayers deserve to know that companies employed with public funds are providing equal opportunity for job seekers."

Palantir did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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