The Paradox of Automation as Anti-Bias Intervention

Forthcoming in Cardozo Law Review

55 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2016 Last revised: 7 Apr 2019

See all articles by Ifeoma Ajunwa

Ifeoma Ajunwa

Cornell University ILR School/Law School; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: March 10, 2016


A received wisdom is that automated decision-making serves as an anti-bias intervention. The conceit is that removing humans from the decision-making process will also eliminate human bias. The paradox, however, is that in some instances, automated decision-making has served to replicate and amplify bias. With a case study of the algorithmic capture of hiring as heuristic device, this Article provides a taxonomy of problematic features associated with algorithmic decision-making as anti-bias intervention and argues that those features are at odds with the fundamental principle of equal opportunity in employment. To examine these problematic features within the context of algorithmic hiring and to explore potential legal approaches to rectifying them, the Article brings together two streams of legal scholarship: law and technology studies and employment & labor law.

Counterintuitively, the Article contends that the framing of algorithmic bias as a technical problem is misguided. Rather, the Article’s central claim is that bias is introduced in the hiring process, in large part, due to an American legal tradition of deference to employers, especially allowing for such nebulous hiring criterion as “cultural fit.” The Article observes the lack of legal frameworks that take into account the emerging technological capabilities of hiring tools which make it difficult to detect disparate impact. The Article thus argues for a re-thinking of legal frameworks that take into account both the liability of employers and those of the makers of algorithmic hiring systems who, as brokers, owe a fiduciary duty of care. Particularly related to Title VII, the Article proposes that in legal reasoning corollary to extant tort doctrines, an employer’s failure to audit and correct its automated hiring platforms for disparate impact could serve as prima facie evidence of discriminatory intent, leading to the development of the doctrine of discrimination per se. The article also considers other approaches separate from employment law such as establishing consumer legal protections for job applicants that would mandate their access to the dossier of information consulted by automated hiring systems in making the employment decision.

Keywords: Big Data, Algorithms, Disparate Impact, Employment Discrimination, Hiring, Business, Corporations, Organizations, Sociology of Work, Diversity

Suggested Citation

Ajunwa, Ifeoma, The Paradox of Automation as Anti-Bias Intervention (March 10, 2016). Forthcoming in Cardozo Law Review. Available at SSRN: or

Ifeoma Ajunwa (Contact Author)

Cornell University ILR School/Law School ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853-3901
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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