March 28 Thursday

The Paradox of Automation as Anti-Bias Intervention

  • Thursday, March 28, 2019 at 6:10PM - 7:30PM
  • SLB Room 128
  • Open To The Yale Community
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A received wisdom is that automated decision-making serves as an anti-bias intervention. The conceit is that removing humans from the decision-making process will also eliminate human bias. The paradox, however, is that in some instances, automated decision-making has served to replicate and amplify bias. With a case study of the algorithmic capture of hiring as heuristic device, this Article provides a taxonomy of problematic features associated with algorithmic decision-making as anti-bias intervention and argues that those features are at odds with the fundamental principle of equal opportunity in employment. To examine these problematic features within the context of algorithmic hiring and to explore potential legal approaches to rectifying them, the Article brings together two streams of legal scholarship: law and technology studies and employment & labor law.

      Counterintuitively, the Article contends that the framing of algorithmic bias as a technical problem is misguided. Rather, the Article’s central claim is that bias is introduced in the hiring process, in large part, due to an American legal tradition of deference to employers, especially allowing for such nebulous hiring criterion as “cultural fit.” The Article observes the lack of legal frameworks that take into account the emerging technological capabilities of hiring tools which make it difficult to detect disparate impact. The Article thus argues for a re-thinking of legal frameworks that take into account both the liability of employers and those of the makers of algorithmic hiring systems who, as brokers, owe a fiduciary duty of care. Particularly related to Title VII, the Article proposes that in legal reasoning corollary to extant tort doctrines, an employer’s failure to audit and correct its automated hiring platforms for disparate impact could serve as prima facie evidence of discriminatory intent, leading to the development of the doctrine of discrimination per se. The article also considers other approaches separate from employment law such as establishing consumer legal protections for job applicants that would mandate their access to the dossier of information consulted by automated hiring systems in making the employment decision

Everyone is welcome to attend the discussion with Dr. Ifeoma Ajunwa. To attend and receive the readings, please RSVP to

Dinner will be served.

A 2018 recipient of the Derrick A. Bell Award from the Association of American Law Schools, Dr. Ajunwa is an Assistant Professor of Labor and Employment Law in the Law, Labor Relations, and History Department of Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School (ILR), and Associated Faculty Member at Cornell Law School.  She is also a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard Law School and an Affiliate of the Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University. Dr. Ajunwa’s research interests are at the intersection of law and technology with a particular focus on the ethical governance of workplace technologies. Her research focus is also on diversity and inclusion in the labor market and the workplace. Her scholarly work has been published in top law reviews like the California Law Review, the Fordham Law Review, the Northwestern Law Review, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, as well as, peer-reviewed journals. She has also published op-ed pieces in the NY Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, etc. Dr. Ajunwa has been invited to present her work before governmental agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the CFPB), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC), and has served as keynote speaker at several conferences. Last May, Dr. Ajunwa gave a Cornell TEDx talk entitled "Controversies of Ethics and Technology in the Modern Workplace." Dr. Ajunwa’s forthcoming book, “The Quantified Worker,” which examines the role of technology in the workplace and its effects on management practices as moderated by employment and anti-discrimination laws will be published by Cambridge University Press in late 2019.

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Information Society Project

Center for Private Law