A former Chan Zuckerberg Initiative employee is filing a racial discrimination complaint, claiming the philanthropic organization underpaid and under-promoted Black staff members.
Raymond Holgado, who worked for CZI between 2018 and mid-2020, filed his claim yesterday with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Holgado says that he was paid less than white colleagues with similar experience, denied promotions, and asked to juggle multiple jobs without recognition. He calls the issue part of a larger problem with race at CZI. “Black employees who want to advance within the organization are shut down and labeled as too assertive or aggressive, while non-Black employees are favored and encouraged,” Holgado writes. “When Black employees have communicated these concerns to CZI leadership, CZI has responded defensively and failed to address the underlying issues.”
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative disputed the claims in a statement given to The Verge. “While we take any allegation of discrimination seriously and will do so here, this former employee’s specific allegations were previously raised internally, independently investigated, and found to be unsubstantiated,” a spokesperson said. “The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is committed to fair treatment, access, and advancement for all members of the team. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, full stop.”
CZI was founded in 2015 by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who runs the organization’s day-to-day operations. The initiative funds a variety of causes, including education programs and disease research. Over the past months, however, employees have complained about its approach to racial injustice. A group of 74 employees sent a letter in June asking for changes in the company’s operations and a greater commitment to racial diversity.
The Washington Post later reported that Chan met with a Black employee resource group, revealing that Black employees left the company at higher rates and were substantially less likely to believe CZI was “inclusive” compared to white, Asian, and Latino employees. But many Black employees “walked away feeling Chan was ill-equipped to discuss these issues, let alone address them,” Holgado says.
Holgado says he met with Chan on behalf of Black employees who had reported discrimination within the company. When he asked for concrete action like hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) expert, he says, Chan rejected the request for a “seasoned professional” in favor of a junior employee.
CZI also allegedly avoided inviting experts who would “stoke the flames” of discontent over racism, and Holgado says it asked employees to avoid focusing on racial disparities while working on criminal justice programs. “Holgado was told that Zuckerberg and Chan did not view race as relevant to the issue of mass incarceration and that previous attempts to push the pair on this issue had contributed to a former employee being terminated,” he writes.
Update 4:55PM ET: Added statement from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.