Pure Beauty

Estée Lauder settles out of court with staff who were ‘sacked by algorithm’

By Becky Bargh | Published: 21-Mar-2022

Three former MAC make-up artists have won their legal challenge against the company’s owner after they were dismissed by the brand due to a failed video interview that was assessed by an algorithm

Cosmetics giant Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) has settled out of court with three make-up artists who were sacked from their job after failing an interview process that was assessed by an algorithm.

The former MAC retail workers were told by its parent that redundancies were being made, and that they would have to reapply for their roles.

As part of that process, a video interview took place, which was run by US tech company HireVue, and was marked by an algorithm.

All three women lost their jobs following the interview.

“My track record was gleaming, essentially, and I exceeded expectations in everything else, so this interview definitely raised some alarm bells to me,” one woman, identified as Onieka, said in the BBC3 documentary Computer Says No.

Questions in the video interview process, which did not ask for any demonstrations of the make-up artists’ work, included how to create a smokey eye, according to one of the artists.

The three women also said that no one could explain how they were scored in the HireVue interview.

“In my outcome for my appeal, they just, more or less, copy and pasted the same sentence about algorithms and artificial intelligence, and this tiering bucket of 15,000 data points [...] to me that isn't an answer,” another of the women, Lizzie, said.

“It was never a valid reason to lose my job, that's why it was so difficult,” she added.

All three women were unable to discuss the value of the agreement reached with ELC in the documentary.

Anthea, another of the women named in the footage, said: “Using an AI – even now I look at it thinking, how did that even happen, that shouldn’t have happened [...] and I really hope that they’ve [ELC] stopped using it.”

In response to the film, MAC said in a statement: “We have taken steps to counter unconscious bias in all our hiring and promotion decisions.”

ELC added: “All interviewees were told in advance the consultation process would involve HireVue skills assessment and the role that technology would play in the process.”

The beauty heavyweight also maintained that clients were issued with feedback.

“In tandem with human decision making [the HireVue system] produces fairer outcomes and we stand by it,” the company added.

Meanwhile, Kevin Parker, CEO and Chairman of HireVue, said that the video analysis component of HireVue’s algorithm was “voluntarily discontinued nearly two years ago”.

He continued: “Based on our research [...] we concluded the historically minimal value provided by the visual analysis didn’t warrant continuing to incorporate it in the assessments in light of the potential concerns.”

‘Patently false’

In a statement to Cosmetics Business ELC added: “MAC UK & Ireland’s vision is to be the most inclusive and diverse beauty brand in the world and to be the employer of choice for diverse talent.

“We endeavour to treat our employees and candidates with dignity and respect at all times.

“The company takes significant steps to counter unconscious bias in all our employment-related decisions. In the situation described, facial recognition accounted for well under 1% (0.25%) of employees’ overall assessment.

“The company has teams who overlay objective performance-related data and other qualitative feedback, which accounted for the majority of the employment assessment, to make decisions on employment.

“Thus, any suggestion that facial recognition technology played a decisive role in any employment-related decision at MAC UK & Ireland or the Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland is patently false.”

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