Labor & Employment Law Daily Facebook willing to pay $52M to settle litigation over content moderators’ psychological trauma
Friday, May 15, 2020

Facebook willing to pay $52M to settle litigation over content moderators’ psychological trauma

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The social media giant will also make significant reforms to address the workplace trauma.

Under a proposed agreement, Facebook would pay $52 million to a class of content moderators who reviewed disturbing, graphic content for the social media giant and suffered psychological trauma as a result. Content moderators were required to view, as a filtration mechanism, posts containing “videos, images and livestreamed broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide and murder,” as part of their duties, according to the lawsuit. Since 2018, content moderators represented by Burns Charest have been fighting to obtain improved work conditions and medical treatment related to psychological trauma caused by their work conditions, according to the law firm’s release.

Facebook has denied the plaintiffs’ allegations of wrongdoing and continues to do so, even though it is willing to settle the litigation.

The class. If the proposed settlement is approved, funds would be distributed among a class persons who performed content moderation work for Facebook in California, Arizona, Texas, or Florida as an employee or subcontractor of one or more of Facebook’s vendors at any time from September 15, 2015, to the date of preliminary approval.

Monetary relief. “The settlement reflects an outstanding and unprecedented recovery for the Class Members,” according to the motion for preliminary settlement filed by the plaintiffs. Out of the $52 million that Facebook would provide, class members may receive a payment of $1,000 “for medical screening for their exposure to graphic or disturbing material in the course of his or her work as a content moderator.” Class members who submit proof of a qualifying diagnosis, such as PTSD, would receive funds designed to cover their treatment costs and, depending on the amount remaining after treatments, serve as additional damage awards of up to $50,000.

Attorneys’ fees and expenses, service awards to the class representatives, and settlement administration costs would be deducted from the proposed $52 million settlement. Class counsel would seek up to $17 million in fees and expenses—32.7 percent of the recovery for the class.

Injunctive relief. Under the deal, Facebook would also implement reforms to address the practices challenged by the plaintiffs, including:

  • Tooling enhancements designed to provide content moderators with more control over how they view content to help mitigate the potential effects of viewing graphic or disturbing content;
  • Training and support designed to help content moderators build resilience and learn to cope with the stress of viewing graphic or disturbing content; and
  • Coaching and other support by licensed mental health counselors for content moderators who need it.

Settlement is reasonable. The plaintiffs said that the settlement was reached through extensive arms’-length negotiations that were facilitated by a retired judge. The plaintiffs also retained two “highly credentialed experts” with whom they worked closely to develop “a keen understanding of the issues related to the diagnosis and treatment of trauma-related injuries and the safeguards necessary to mitigate future harm.” According to the plaintiffs, the proposed settlement is reasonable considering the strength of the claims and defenses as measured against the cost and risks of further litigation.

“The settlement is a great result for the class members,” said Daniel Charest, a managing partner of Burns Charest. “This groundbreaking litigation fixed a major workplace problem involving developing technology and its impact on real workers who suffered in order to make Facebook safer for its users.”

The lawsuit, Scola v. Facebook, Inc., is in the Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo; the case is No. 18CIV05135.

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