Kenyan court rules Meta as primary employer in content moderators’ lawsuit

In a groundbreaking ruling, a Kenyan court has declared Meta, the parent company of Facebook, as the primary employer of content moderators embroiled in a legal battle against the social media giant and its content review partner in Africa, Sama. The lawsuit, filed by 184 moderators earlier this year, also alleges that Meta’s new content review partner on the continent, Majorel, had blacklisted them under Meta’s instruction.

Justice Byram Ongaya of Kenya’s employment and labor relations court has effectively shattered Meta’s attempt to distance itself from the case, emphasizing that the moderators performed their duties for Meta, utilizing its technology and adhering to its performance and accuracy standards. Sama, on the other hand, disputed this characterization, claiming that Meta was their client and that they were not authorized to act on Meta’s behalf.

Meta has chosen to remain silent thus far, refraining from responding to the court’s ruling or making any comments on the matter.

The court’s decision severely undermines Meta’s argument that it is not the direct employer of the content moderators. It firmly establishes that Meta, along with Sama, holds the responsibility of providing the digital workspace for content moderation, with Sama acting as an agent or manager. The court clarified that there is no arrangement to absolve Meta from being recognized as the primary employer of the moderators.

Furthermore, the court has ordered that the moderators’ contracts be extended and has prohibited Meta and Sama from laying off the moderators until the resolution of the case. Finding no valid justification for the redundancies, the court determined that content moderation jobs are readily available. Consequently, the moderators will continue their work under existing or improved terms during the interim period.

Hailing from various African countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, and South Africa, the content moderators play a crucial role in reviewing social media posts on Meta’s platforms to weed out content promoting hate, misinformation, and violence.

The moderators allege that Sama unlawfully terminated their employment without providing proper redundancy notices as mandated by Kenyan law. The lawsuit also highlights other grievances, including the lack of a 30-day termination notice and the requirement to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to receive their terminal dues.

Sama had previously stated that it had complied with Kenyan law and had communicated its decision to discontinue content moderation through town hall meetings, emails, and notification letters.

In addition to this landmark case, Meta and Sama currently face two other lawsuits in Kenya. One lawsuit accuses them of labor and human trafficking, unfair labor relations, and failing to provide adequate mental health and psychosocial support. The second lawsuit, filed by Ethiopians, alleges that Meta did not implement sufficient safety measures on Facebook, leading to conflicts and deaths during the Tigray War.

By Amit