Meta can be sued in Kenya for alleged illegal firings and blacklisting of moderators, court rules

A Kenyan court has ruled that Meta can be sued in the East African country for alleged illegal dismissals and blacklisting of content moderators, dismissing the social media giant’s request to have the case dismissed.

Meta Platforms Inc and Meta Platforms Ireland Ltd wanted the case dismissed on the grounds that they are foreign companies and that Kenyan courts lack jurisdiction to hear and decide claims against them.

Meta and its sub-Saharan African content review partners, Sama and Majorel, have been sued in Kenys by 183 content moderators. The moderators claim that Sama illegally fired them and that Meta ordered its new Luxembourg-based partner, Majorel, to blacklist Sama’s former content moderators.

The court said it has “jurisdiction to determine the matter of the alleged unlawful and unfair termination of employment for reasons of dismissal” by Meta and Sama. He also said that he has the authority “to enforce the alleged violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms” by Meta, Sama and Majorel.

“The present dispute arises out of an employer-employee dispute. The court will consider the nature and extent of liability in respect of alleged breaches and violations of the Constitution arising out of or related to employment and labor relations in Kenya,” the labor relations tribunal added.

“It is in the conclusion considered by the court that it is irrelevant whether the alleged violations occur in a physical or virtual space within the jurisdiction of this Court in Kenya.” The ruling now paves the way for a full hearing.

The court also upheld interim orders issued in mid-March temporarily barring Meta from hiring its new content moderation subcontractor, Majorel, and Sama from performing any form of dismissal while the case was being determined. Since then, Sama has sent permanently licensed moderators, leaving Meta’s content review in sub-Saharan Africa in limbo.

The moderators claim that Sama did not issue layoff notices, as required by Kenyan law, and that his terminal dues were tied to signing confidentiality documents.

Sama argues that he followed the law and communicated the decision to suspend content moderation at a town hall meeting and through notification emails and letters.

Sama laid off its employees late last month after it shut down its content moderation arm to focus on tagging (computer vision data annotation) work, laying off 260 moderators at its center in Kenya, which housed moderators from various countries within Africa.

Meta and Sama also face another case over claims of union exploitation and repression. Some Ethiopians have also sued the social media giant over claims it amplified hateful content and did not have enough staff, with understanding of local languages, to moderate the content.

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