Article Summary

"Changing Currents in Employment Law" is the D.C. Bar's annual three-hour event featuring legal updates and practice tips from the area's top employment attorneys — all for CLE credit. TELG's Scott Oswald serves as faculty director and will moderate the event on October 29, 2019. Here he previews the panel on the use of artificial intelligence in hiring with panelist Mikael Rojas of Outten & Golden LLP.

This video interview by TELG managing principal R. Scott Oswald was published by The Employment Law Group, P.C. on September 6, 2019.

Changing Currents 2019: Panel Preview – Artificial Intelligence in Hiring



» “Changing Currents in Employment Law” will take place on October 29, 2019. Click here for more details and registration options.


(Transcribed and edited lightly by The Employment Law Group)

R. Scott Oswald: Welcome, everyone, to a little preview of our panels at “Changing Currents in Employment Law” this year on October 29, 2019, from 6:00pm to 9:15pm at the D.C. Bar.

Today we have [turns to interviewee] Mikael Rojas of Outten & Golden — and your panel is on artificial intelligence.

Before we get there: Maybe just a little bit about you. Because you’re from the West Coast, right?

Mikael A. Rojas: Yes.

Oswald: Now you’ve come out to Washington. Tell us a little about your background and what brought you here.

Rojas: Sure. So I went from Washington State to Washington, D.C. I grew up in the Yakima Valley in Washington —

Oswald: Where’s the Yakima Valley?

Rojas: It’s about three hours east of Seattle. It’s right in the middle of beautiful orchard country and wine country. It’s home to a lot of hard-working people — and that’s part of the reason why I wanted to become an employment lawyer and a civil rights lawyer. That really set the stage for my whole life and career.

Oswald: And your family’s still in Washington?

Rojas: My whole family’s still back home. I’m the black sheep. I ended up about 2,500 miles away from everyone else, but I still get back home to see them — and they get out to see me once in a while as well.

Oswald: Well, Mikael, I want to talk about the panel on [October] 29th. It’s on artificial intelligence. I know that artificial intelligence is a new thing and it’s supposed to wring out bias from the hiring process — but it’s really only as good as the input, right? The facts that go into the algorithm. Why is that?

Rojas: I think that’s for a couple of reasons. I think the great hope for AI and a lot of machine learning tools is that we can eliminate some of the inherent biases that human beings have, unfortunately. But as you just explained, the software that we develop and the tools that we use are only as good as the people and the information that goes into them.

One high-profile example of where AI — and the business community — suffered a setback is with an Amazon recruitment tool that was developed using current Amazon employees as the model for future recruits to the company. Because of the male-dominated nature of the company, and of the industry, the tool sought out other male candidates over female candidates — and it actually ended up penalizing words [on résumés] like “women’s chess club” or [the names of] all women’s colleges.

And Amazon [ended] the use of that tool because of the bias that it saw being reflected in its use.

Oswald: That must have been a public relations nightmare.

Rojas: I think it was and there’s plenty of publicity on it. I think this issue is flashing across the headlines pretty much every day.

Oswald: So tell us a little about your panel. You will be presenting on AI — and let’s say I’m in the audience. I don’t know a whole lot about it, right? Give us a sense of what I might see on the panel.

Rojas: Sure. So I’m presenting with Meredith Schramm-Strosser from Littler Mendelson. I work at Outten & Golden, which is a plaintiff’s side firm. Littler, of course, is a great defense-side firm in employment issues. We’ll hope to do our best at representing both perspectives. And we’ll talk about some of the cutting-edge issues in this area — but we’ll hope to define the terms to begin with, as well.

Artificial intelligence can be used in a lot of different ways in hiring. It can be used to narrow applicant pools. It can be used as an affirmative recruiting device. It can be used to assess applicant performance in interviews and other application materials. So I hope we’ll walk through each of those different uses for AI and talk about the potential benefits and the potential risks from an EEO perspective and otherwise. We’ll just hope to do a good overview of all those things.

Oswald: So it sounds like, from what you’re saying, that [AI] really could be a time-saver. If done right, it could save an HR department a lot of time.

Rojas: I think that’s the big hope. Hiring is expensive, and it’s time-consuming, and it’s difficult — and it’s also a competitive process, so employers always want to be able to be more efficient, be more competitive. And if you have a machine or software that can help you do that, you know, that can be a great thing. We just have to watch out for potential issues.

Oswald: So let’s say I’m an HR director and I’m thinking about using AI in my business, in my company. What are some of the things that I need to be careful of in implementing a program that includes AI?

Rojas: I think, first and foremost — this might sound obvious, but I think it’s worth stating and restating — is you should be conscious and considerate of potential bias impacts or effects.

I think if you want to use modern technology, you have to abide by some pretty timeless principles. And that is to ensure that you’re doing the best job you can to be fair, and to comply with the law. I think you should look at the different case studies that are available. There’s a lot of media and news sources on where AI has sort of gone wrong, so I think you should be an informed consumer of the AI technology.

There’s also some legal guidance that’s in development. I think one area to look at, in particular, is the Uniform Guidelines on [Employee] Selection Procedures, which are federal regulations that help give some guidance to the business community about how they should carry out their selection procedures.

Oswald: Mikael, thank you.

Rojas: Thank you, Scott.

Oswald: [Turning to camera] We look forward to seeing all of you at “Changing Currents” this year on October 29th from 6:00pm to 9:15pm at the D.C. Bar.


R. Scott Oswald is managing principal of The Employment Law Group, P.C. Mikael A. Rojas is an associate at Outten & Golden LLP.


» “Changing Currents in Employment Law” will take place on October 29, 2019. Click here for more details and registration options.