Day: October 6, 2020

Government probes Microsoft’s effort to boost diversity

Microsoft says the U.S. Labor Department is scrutinizing its efforts to boost Black employment and leadership at the tech company

Microsoft says the U.S. Labor Department is scrutinizing its efforts to boost Black employment and leadership at the tech company.

Microsoft disclosed in a blog post Tuesday that it received a letter from the agency last week asking about the company’s June pledge to double the number of Black and African American managers, senior individual contributors and senior leaders by 2025.

“The letter asked us to prove that the actions we are taking to improve opportunities are not illegal race-based decisions,” said Dev Stahlkopf, Microsoft’s general counsel. “Emphatically, they are not.”

CEO Satya Nadella made the June hiring commitment in response to Black Lives Matter protests around the country and as part of a broader message to employees about racial injustice and promoting a culture of inclusivity at the Redmond, Washington-based company.

It’s not uncommon for tech companies to publicly tout efforts to increase staff diversity, given the industry’s longstanding dearth of Black, Latino and female workers in technical and leadership positions. But this time they are running into scrutiny by a Trump administration that has sought to intervene with universities and other institutions over their approach to race and discrimination.

Labor Department representatives didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment Tuesday.

The Trump administration’s move contrasts a flurry of efforts by private companies and institutions to increase racial diversity in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests. There has been a particular emphasis on bringing more African Americans into leadership positions.

More than 40 private and publicly traded companies have joined a pledge to add at least one Black member to their board of directors by 2021. Target last month pledged to increase the representation of its Black employees by 20% over the next three years. Goldman Sachs announced an initiative to recruit more bankers and traders from historically Black colleges. Other firms that have announced similar hiring or promotion goals include Salesforce, Mastercard and Accenture.

Glassdoor, the jobs site that allows users to review their employers anonymously, added new feature to allow users to rate companies on their diversity and inclusion initiatives. The company said the feature was added partly in response to a 63% spike in reviews mention diversity over the summer, following protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

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AP Business Writer Alexandra Olson in New York contributed to this story.

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Animal welfare groups allege unresponsiveness, neglect from Liberty Humane Society

Last month, residents of the Jersey City luxury building The Beacon were getting concerned about a dog.

A husky had been seen lying on an outside balcony for several days, with no apparent food or water. Photos show the dog lying on a balcony strewn with feces.

“The dog was living in filth,” one resident of the building said. Residents were so concerned that they lowered a dish of water onto the balcony and slid food under a divider for the animal. After the dog was outside for two days, the neighbor called Liberty Humane Society.

But instead of removing the dog, animal control officers from LHS allowed the owner to keep it.

Liberty Humane Society Executive Director Irene Borngraeber said the organization acted appropriately, but a coalition of animal welfare groups throughout Hudson County say the incident illustrates what they describe as the longstanding inadequacy of LHS.

The incident at the Beacon is “just one story of, like, hundreds of stories just like this,” said Anne Mosca, a board member of the cat rescue organization, JerseyCats.

In a series of interviews, the leaders of six Hudson County animal welfare groups said LHS often declines to help injured or sick animals. The organization often requires residents to pay a “surrender fee,” even when they are simply seeking help for abandoned strays and not trying to surrender their own pet, the animal advocates said.

And LHS sometimes leaves traps for animals unattended for long periods at a time, the leaders said, meaning an animal could spend days inside a cage outdoors before being picked up.

LHS has been providing animal control and shelter services to Jersey City since 2017, when the nonprofit was awarded a two-year, $1.2 million contract. The City Council has renewed that contract twice, most recently in May. Jaclyn Fulop, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s wife, sits on the organization’s board. Bayonne and Hoboken also have contracts with the nonprofit.

But in interviews and written accounts, more than a half dozen people said the organization was unresponsive to calls and appeared reluctant to help animals in danger or in poor health.

“People give up on calling animal control because they’re not going to be responsive,” said Denise Labowski, a director with rescue group PAD PAWS Rescue. “So they figure, why bother?”

In one account, a person wrote that an animal control officer from LHS declined to help remove a kitten from a sewer, saying that its mother would return to take care of it. Another said that when a kitten was stuck under the hood of a car, an LHS officer suggested leaving a note on the vehicle. Others said that officers appeared hours later than they said they would.

Borngraeber said she was unaware of those specific complaints.

“I would encourage the individuals quoted to contact LHS directly to discuss their concerns and provide additional information needed to document and assess next steps,” she said in an email. “We must work together.”

And she pushed back on

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Ian Mulgrew: Law Society of B.C. to seek more appropriate icon

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Three years ago, the law society removed Begbie’s statue from the foyer of its Vancouver building and eliminated other hallmarks such as the little bronze “Begbies” that honour a “lifetime contribution of the truly exceptional in the legal profession” and changing “Begbie” as the code word used to trigger safety procedures.

Berger and Foster said the original decision was based on a flawed report about the colonial judge.

Retired Chief Justice Lance Finch has written a paper questioning the report’s findings and calling for a renewed assessment of Begbie’s work.

The benchers did not consult the membership before making the 2017 decision but recognized many lawyers would disagree with it.

New Westminster last year removed a statue of Begbie from outside the city’s courthouse but three mountains, two lakes, a creek, an elementary school, streets and other sites across B.C. still bear his name.

“The bencher’s decision was made without regard to the simple facts of the case,” Berger said in proposing the resolution.

“The removal of Begbie’s statue was a dramatic gesture by the benchers that was understood to be a considered rejection of Begbie and all that he stood for. This is regrettable.”

Foster added: “As is the case with all of us, he made mistakes. But he was not the man portrayed in the (society’s) report.”

They emphasized a colonial judge was “not the right symbol for B.C.’s legal profession in the 21st century,” but his memory should be set right.

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Supreme Court Weighs Monetary Damages Under Religious Freedom Law

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence has made quite clear its views in two seemingly unrelated areas: religious rights, to which a majority of the justices have shown broad deference, and limits on public officials’ personal liability for misconduct, which the court has signaled a deep reluctance to expand.

Arguments Tuesday in a case involving the terrorist no-fly list put those themes in conflict.

Three Muslim men, all American citizens or lawful residents, say they were placed on the no-fly list after refusing counterterrorism agents’ efforts to recruit them as informers against fellow Muslims. They sued the agents under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that limits government practices that impede religious exercise—and authorizes “appropriate relief” for violations.

A federal appeals court in New York said last year that relief could include monetary damages from the responsible agents, should the plaintiffs win their case. Arguing the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court Tuesday, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler said the most the plaintiffs could win was an injunction to stop the government’s unlawful activity. That would provide little benefit to the plaintiffs, who were removed from the no-fly list after they filed suit.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Mr. Kneedler’s position, noting that in considering the legislation Congress had taken testimony from “families whose loved ones were being subjected to autopsies in violation of their religious beliefs,” including “the fact that injunctive relief would not help those families.”

Mr. Kneedler replied that the religious freedom law was aimed at curbing government policies that burdened religious exercise, not individual episodes such as those. He stressed that Congress hadn’t explicitly authorized money damages and that the court shouldn’t imply they were available.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh turned that logic around.

“In thinking about what the text means here, I look at the words but also look at the words that aren’t there,” he said. “When it says ‘appropriate relief,’ it does not, of course, say ‘appropriate injunctive relief.’”

Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative-leaning court has read the religious-freedom law expansively. In 2014, for example, the justices exempted the for-profit Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. from Affordable Care Act regulations requiring that workplace health-insurance plans provide contraceptive coverage, because the company’s owners held religious objections to certain forms of birth control.

Lawyers for the Muslim men cited the Hobby Lobby case extensively in their legal briefs. But while the current court has shown concern for religious belief, it has also expressed skepticism toward lawsuits against government officials.

In the early 1970s, for instance, a more liberal court implied personal liability in some circumstances for federal officials who violated civil rights, akin to the liability that the Reconstruction Congress imposed on state officials after the Civil War. While it hasn’t overturned those precedents, the justices have signaled their disinclination to extend federal officials’ liability beyond what Congress specifically authorizes.

Even when officials can be held personally liable in theory, the court has created doctrines that often allow police officers and others accused of

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Mutual admiration and improvement society between Boston College and Pitt

Even though Hafley’s time as an assistant at Pitt from 2006–2010 predates Narduzzi’s run since 2015 as the Panthers head coach, they’ve known each other for years, and have built a respect and a rapport. Over the offseason, when the Atlantic Coast Conference coaches would meet on Zoom, Hafley made a point to be seen and not heard as the youngest of the group. But even though they’re competitors in the ACC, Narduzzi had no problems offering to help Hafley in any way he could.

“I have a ton of respect for him. He’s been really good to me,” Hafley said. “He’s actually a guy that early on, in the Zoom calls, called me after and said, ‘Hey, if you ever need anything, give me a call.’ So I really appreciate him for that.”

This might not be one of the weeks Hafley reaches out. The Eagles (2-1, 1-1 ACC) are coming off a hard-fought loss to North Carolina, and Pitt (3-1, 2-1) is still stinging from a 30-29 loss to N.C. State.

The Eagles have ties to Pitt. Hafley met his wife, Gina, there. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti served in the same role at Pitt in 2009-10 under Dave Wannstedt. If anything, Narduzzi said those connections will add an extra layer when the two teams meet Saturday at Alumni Stadium.

“It’ll be personal to them,” Narduzzi said. “It’ll be personal for us.”

Their teams also have similar identities, which can be traced to the head coaches.

Hafley said of Narduzzi, “He’s a defensive guy. You can see the way his team plays. He keeps them together, they play very hard, they’re very disciplined, they’re very tough, very physical, and that’s a credit to him.”

And in turn, Narduzzi said, “Jeff has got that team really on all three phases playing tough. Those defensive guys stick together, but it’s a tough, physical, well-coached football team on both sides and on special teams. That’s what you see out of them.

“They’re a good football team. They took North Carolina to the end. They fight back and beat a Texas State football team and really, that’s the last two weeks, but a really good football team.”

But Narduzzi also noticed a striking difference in the Eagles offense with Hafley and Cignetti at the helm. The Eagles are fourth in the ACC in passing offense (274.3 yards per game) and fifth in pass attempts (117).

“It appears that they just kind of run the ball just to say they ran it, but they really want to throw the football,” Narduzzi said. “They are a lot more pass-oriented. They really want to throw the ball. It seems like with [quarterback] Phil [Jurkovec] and his arm, he’s got a lot of confidence in his arm. They’re heavier pass, so we’ll have to tighten up our coverage a lot more from what it looked like last week.”

Pitt has a tie back to New England as well. After spending a year away from football, former UMass

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HHS whistleblower Rick Bright resigns from government

Rick Bright, the federal vaccine chief-turned-whistleblower who was reassigned to a different agency and subsequently criticized the Trump administration’s pandemic response, has left the federal government, Bright’s lawyers announced on Tuesday.

“Dr. Bright was forced to leave his position at NIH because he can no longer sit idly by and work for an administration that ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists, resulting the [sic.] in the sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said in a statement.

HHS declined comment.

“We can confirm that Dr. Bright has resigned, effective today,” an NIH spokesperson said, adding that the agency “does not discuss personnel issues beyond confirming employment.”

Bright was abruptly removed as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in April and reassigned to NIH, and he alleges that he was demoted because he opposed political pressure linked to an unproven Covid-19 treatment. In his updated filing with the Office of Special Counsel, Bright said that he was assigned “no meaningful work” at NIH since Sept. 4, further alleging that NIH Director Francis Collins “declined to support” his recommendations about coronavirus testing “because of political considerations.”

Bright testified to a House panel in May that he was punished by Health and Human Services Department leaders for raising concerns about hydroxychloroquine, the drug favored by President Donald Trump to treat the coronavirus despite scant evidence. Bright also used the hearing and other media appearances to speak out against the administration’s handling of the pandemic, saying that HHS had missed opportunities to prepare for the spread of Covid-19 and raising further charges of cronyism.

Bright appears in an upcoming documentary, “Totally Under Control,” which faults the Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak and is set to be released next week. The New York Times first reported Bright’s resignation.

HHS has spent months rebuffing Bright’s claims, saying that as vaccine chief he lacked full visibility into the administration’s efforts and noting that Bright played a key role in the government’s acquisition of hydroxychloroquine. The health department also issued a document called “CLAIM vs. REALITY” that sought to rebut Bright’s points.

Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly dismissed Bright as a “disgruntled” employee.

Other officials have subsequently echoed Bright’s criticisms of the Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak, including Olivia Troye, who advised Vice President Mike Pence on the coronavirus response before leaving the White House this summer.

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Humane Society of Missouri rescues 55 dogs from Franklin County property | News Headlines

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Mo. (KMOV.com) – The Humane Society of Missouri rescued 55 dogs from a property in Franklin County Tuesday.

The dogs, most of which are Basset Hounds, were mostly in crates and were sitting in their own urine and feces. Authorities believe they had not been cared for since at least Sunday.

The owner of the property was believed to be breeding the dogs, was arrested last week on a warrant out of Iowa for fraudulent practices.

The animals will be held at the Humane Society’s headquarters in South City pending further court action. It is unknown when they will be available for adoption.

The Humane Society of Missouri posted a Facebook live of the dogs receiving care.

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Law and order, racial justice compatible

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the 2020 presidential election (all times local):

5:40 p.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says the U.S. doesn’t have to choose between “law and order” and racial justice.

Speaking near the national historic site in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, Biden cited “instances of excessive police force” and “heart-wrenching cases of racial injustice” that have inspired peaceful protests across the country. Biden says instances of violence and burning during some demonstrations “cannot be tolerated” but also should not obscure the larger issues.

President Donald Trump is campaigning as a “law and order” president and blasting racial justice protests as violent anarchy in U.S. cities led by Democrats. And the president has falsely accused Biden of calling to “defund the police” across the country.

Biden says he believes “in law and order” and has “never supported defunding the police.” But he said he also believes that “injustice is real” and rooted in 400 years of history that includes slavery, Jim Crow segregation and a fundamentally uneven economy. Biden said anyone who doesn’t see the effects of that history today hasn’t “opened your eyes to the truth in America.”

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE:

President Donald Trump is recovering from the coronavirus at the White House. He announced Tuesday that he had instructed his aides to abandon COVID-19 relief talks with congressional Democrats until after the Nov. 3 election. Democrat Joe Biden was campaigning in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday.

Read more:

— Trump, contagious at White House, back to downplaying virus

— Trump halts COVID-19 relief talks until after election

— Countering Trump, US officials defend integrity of election

— 5 questions as Pence and Harris prepare for debate faceoff

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

5:30 p.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has issued a sweeping call for national unity, using a picturesque, symbolic backdrop of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War to warn that the U.S. again is “in a dangerous place.”

Biden argued Tuesday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that the U.S. can overcome centuries of economic and racial divisions, along with deep partisan rifts that have accelerated in recent years. He says some semblance of bipartisanship is necessary to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild a battered economy.

But he said the country must “decide to cooperate” the same way that partisans have decided “not to cooperate.”

The former vice president again denounced white supremacy and promised he’d “provide for the common good” and ensure there is “no place for hate in America” if he’s elected.

Biden didn’t mention President Donald Trump and instead invoked Abraham Lincoln and called for Americans to listen to the “better angels” that the 16th president spoke of during the Civil War.

Americans “can’t undo what has been done,” Biden said, but the nation “can do so much better.”

___

4:25 p.m.

Joe Biden has again tested negative for the coronavirus.

His campaign announced Tuesday afternoon that the Democratic

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Microsoft Says U.S. Government Questions Its Pledge to Hire More Black Employees

Microsoft Corp.


MSFT -2.12%

said it was contacted last week by the federal government to see whether its pledge to hire more Black employees constitutes unlawful discrimination by a government contractor.

The software company said the agency overseeing federal contractors is questioning whether its initiative to double the number of Black managers and leaders in its U.S. workforce by 2025 violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“We have every confidence that Microsoft’s diversity initiative complies fully with all U.S. employment laws,” Microsoft general counsel Dev Stahlkopf said in a blog post.

Black employees represent about 4.5% of Microsoft’s U.S. workforce and less than 3% of senior roles, according to the company’s 2019 diversity report. That compares with about 13% of the U.S. population.

Microsoft made the pledge to improve its diversity ranks in June, as well as a commitment to invest an additional $150 million over five years in diversity and inclusion programs. After the killing of George Floyd in May, it was one of several companies, from Germany’s

Adidas AG

to Silicon Valley’s

Facebook Inc.,

to make pledges to hire more Black employees.

In its letter to Microsoft, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs suggested this initiative “appears to imply that employment action may be taken on the basis of race.” The letter asked Microsoft to prove the actions it is taking aren’t illegal race-based decisions, according to the software maker.

The OFCCP is an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor that oversees companies like Microsoft that are federal contractors. A spokesman for the Labor Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last month, the Trump administration issued an executive order that prohibits companies with federal contracts from participating in training that “promotes race or sex-stereotyping or scapegoating.” The OFCCP has created a hotline for workers to report their companies for potentially violating the order.

In June, Microsoft also said it would step up efforts to fight racial disparities outside the company, including setting up a $50 million investment fund focused on supporting Black-owned small businesses. The company pledged to use data and technology to identify racial disparities in the criminal-justice system and improve policing.

“We believe it is a core part of our mission to make our company, our community and our country a place where people of diverse views and backgrounds are welcomed and can thrive,” Microsoft said in its blog post.

Write to Khadeeja Safdar at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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‘Kid influencers’ regulated under new French law

When kids become YouTube or Instagram sensations, should they be considered child workers? And who looks after their money? The French parliament has attempted to answer those questions with a new law passed on Tuesday.

An increasing number of minors have huge followings on social media, often inviting viewers into their family and school lives as they discuss daily issues from bullying to music, or review products including games and make-up.

The money available for so-called “kid influencers” — some are known to earn millions of dollars a year — has raised fears of pushy parents encouraging their offspring to spend more time posting online than pursuing their education.

According to the MP who has sponsored the new legislation in France, Bruno Studer, most countries are yet to regulate this new space which touches on issues from child rights to privacy and labour law. 

“Child labour is forbidden in France unless there are special dispensations, including on the internet,” Studer said on Tuesday after the text cleared the French parliament in a final reading ahead of its signature by President Emmanuel Macron.

The minister for children and families, Adrien Tacquet, hailed a “precise and balanced” law.

“Since 2017 the government has committed itself on several occasions to better regulating the digital world so that everyone is better protected there,” he added.

The law extends safeguards that already cover child performers and fashion models to significant online influencers, meaning that their income will be held in a special bank account until the age of 16. 

The legislation also requires any company wanting to employ a child influencer to obtain permission from local authorities in order to put them to work — and a failure to do so can lead to court action.

Thirdly, the new law gives kid influencers a “right to be forgotten”, meaning that internet platforms are required to remove content when asked to do so.

The new regulations will not apply to all children posting material online — only to those spending significant amounts of time doing what can be qualified as commercial work, which provides an income.

– Huge earnings –

The “influencer” model of advertising has exploded in recent years as brands funnel money and products towards social media users with large followings, who help promote products in return for the sponsorship.

The Influencer Marketing Hub, an industry group, estimated that firms were expected to spend almost $10 billion (8.5 billion euros) on “influencer marketing” this year, up from $6.5 billion in 2019.

Digital advertising revenues for the most popular channels on sites such as YouTube can also run into the millions.

The Google-owned website said in 2019 that its top-earning creator was an eight-year-old called Ryan Kaji who made $26 million in that year with his channel “Ryan’s World” which was started by his Texas-based parents.

Initially called “Ryan ToysReview”, the channel once consisted mostly of “unboxing” videos — videos of the young star opening boxes of toys and playing with them.

Several

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