Facebook sued for denying opportunities to US workers

The US Department of Justice has accused Facebook of discriminating against American workers by giving hiring preferences to immigrants.

A lawsuit alleges the social media firm refused to recruit, consider or hire qualified and available Americans for more than 2,600 positions.

Those jobs instead went to foreigners on temporary visas, the lawsuit says.

Facebook disputed the allegations, but said it was co-operating with the department.

The lawsuit concerns Facebook’s use of temporary H-1B visas, which are often used by tech companies to bring highly skilled foreign workers to the US.

In its lawsuit, filed on Thursday, the department alleged that Facebook “intentionally created a hiring system” that favoured H-1B visa holders and other temporary workers over Americans.

The department said it filed the lawsuit after a two-year investigation into Facebook’s hiring practices.

The lawsuit seeks “back pay on behalf of US workers denied employment at Facebook” among other remedies.

“Our message to workers is clear: If companies deny employment opportunities by illegally preferring temporary visa holders, the Department of Justice will hold them accountable,” said Eric S Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the department’s civil rights division.

“Our message to all employers – including those in the technology sector – is clear: You cannot illegally prefer to recruit, consider or hire temporary visa holders over US workers.”

The Trump administration has had a strained relationship with tech firms in recent years. Big companies such as Facebook have faced criticism for allowing disinformation to be spread on their platforms and data to be misused.

Complaints of anti-competitive practices have also been levelled at the largest tech companies in the US by Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

In October, the Justice Department sued Google, accusing it of illegally maintaining its monopoly power in search and search advertising. Google denied the allegations, calling the litigation deeply flawed.

A few weeks before that, the House Judiciary Committee recommended taking action to break up the big-tech platforms, including Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google.

Facebook has previously said it is not a monopoly and consumers can choose how to connect with friends online.

Warner Bros films set for simultaneous cinema and US streaming

Warner Bros has escalated tensions between Hollywood’s studios and US cinemas with a decision to make all releases available to stream as soon as they hit the big screen.

The move will enable film fans to watch the forthcoming remake of Dune and the Matrix sequel on HBO Max at the same time as they are released in cinemas.

Typically, new releases are shown exclusively at cinemas for months.

But with many cinemas shut due to the virus, studio revenues have plunged.

As a result, Warner Bros said all of its 2021 releases would go straight to HBO Max, the streaming service owned by its ultimate parent company AT&T.

The films will be available on the service, which is not yet available in the UK, for one month after release.

The releases are expected to include Godzilla vs Kong, Mortal Kombat and The Suicide Squad.

Warner Bros had already announced that its big budget Christmas action movie – Wonder Woman 1984 – would be available on HBO Max, as well as in cinemas.

Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, said the pandemic called for “creative solutions”.

“No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” she said.

“We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

Earlier in the year, US cinema chain AMC, which owns Odeon in the UK, banned all Universal films after the studio said it would release new movies at home and on the big screen on the same day.

The two firms eventually agreed that Universal films can go to digital services after just 17 days of viewing in cinemas.

Explaining Warner Bros’ decision, Ms Sarnoff said the “unique one-year plan” would give “moviegoers who may not have access to theatres, or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies, the chance to see our amazing 2021 films”.

“We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”

Covid: First batch of vaccines arrives in the UK

The first consignment of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has arrived in the UK.

It has been taken to a central hub at an undisclosed location, and will now be distributed to hospital vaccination centres around the UK.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

England’s deputy chief medical officer said the first wave of vaccinations could prevent up to 99% of Covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths.

Speaking to BBC News, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said that would be possible if everyone on the first priority list took the vaccine and it was highly effective.

He said it was key to distribute the vaccine “as fast” and at the “highest volume” as possible, but he acknowledged there would need to be some flexibility in the list.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are made in Belgium and have travelled to the UK via the Eurotunnel.

The order in which people will get the jab is recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and decided by the government.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

However, because hospitals already have the facilities to store the vaccine at the necessary -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place there – for care home staff, NHS staff and patients – to lower the risk of wasting doses.

Prof Van-Tam told BBC News: “If we can get through phase one [of the priority list] and it is a highly effective vaccine and there is very, very high up take, then we could in theory take out 99% of hospitalisations and deaths related to Covid 19.

“That is why the phase one list is what it is, that is the primary ambition.”

The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, has since said that the UK was not as rigorous as the US in its Covid-19 vaccine approval process.

“The UK did not do it as carefully,” he told Fox News. “If you go quickly and you do it superficially, people are not going to want to get vaccinated.”

But the UK has defended its process, and said the jab is safe and effective.

Dr June Raine, the head of the UK medicines regulator, said “no corners had been cut” in vetting the jab. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reviewed preliminary data on the vaccine trials dating back to June.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19.

The UK’s 40 million doses will be distributed as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, with the first load rolled out next week and then “several millions” throughout December, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

But the bulk of the roll-out across the UK will be next year.

And it could take until April for all those deemed most at-risk to receive the new vaccine, according to NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.

The arrival of the vaccines comes after the UK became the first country in Europe to surpass 60,000 coronavirus deaths

Official figures show a further 414 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were recorded on Thursday, taking the total to 60,113.

Two other ways of measuring deaths – where Covid is mentioned on the death certificate, and the number of “excess deaths” for this time of year – give higher total figures.

Only the US, Brazil, India and Mexico have recorded more deaths than the UK, according to Johns Hopkins University.

However, the UK has had more deaths per 100,000 people than any of those nations.

In terms of deaths per 100,000 people, the UK is the seventh-highest country globally, behind Belgium, San Marino, Peru, Andorra, Spain and Italy.

Madeleine McCann still a missing person case – Dame Cressida Dick

Scotland Yard is still treating Madeleine McCann as a missing person, the Met Commissioner has said, despite the belief of German prosecutors that she is dead.

Dame Cressida Dick said the force was working with German investigators but had not seen all of their evidence.

Madeleine disappeared in 2007 aged three on holiday in Portugal.

Prosecutors previously said they have evidence a German child sex offender named as Christian B killed her.

But although Christian B, 43, was identified as a suspect in June, prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said the evidence is not strong enough to charge him.

Suspects’ surnames are not usually revealed in Germany for privacy reasons.

Dame Cressida said that the Met’s position had not changed since the summer, when the force said its investigation – Operation Grange – remained a missing person inquiry as there is no “definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead”.

She said a small team of Met Police investigators continued to work “very closely” with police in Germany and Portugal.

“We will continue until the time that it is right, either because much more light has been thrown on this or somebody has been brought to justice,” she said.

“Or if we feel we have exhausted all possible opportunities. We’re not at any of those stages at the moment, and the team continues.”

Despite the close co-operation, she said she did not expect “every single piece of material to be shared with us”.

“I’m sure they’re sharing the relevant things at the relevant times with us,” Dame Cressida said.

Christian B is currently serving a prison sentence for drug offences in Germany and lost an appeal last month against a further seven-year sentence for rape.

He attacked a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz in Portugal in 2005, the same area where Madeleine disappeared about 18 months later.

Police believe he was regularly living in this part of Portugal between 1997 and 2007, staying in a camper van at the time he is suspected of abducting Madeleine.

Blackburn benefits cheat exposed by arm-wrestling contest

A man who falsely claimed £13,000 in disabilities benefits was exposed after he was caught driving and competing in an arm-wrestling contest, police said.

Sakib Zarif, from Blackburn, “grossly exaggerated” his disability as part of the scam, along with his mother Khalida Zarif who claimed £24,000.

With his siblings, the family claimed £51,000, Lancashire Police said.

Sakib was jailed at Preston Crown Court for 15 months, while Khalida was sentenced to a year.

In August 2016 and April 2019, Sakib claimed he needed help with day-to-day tasks following an assault in 2015.

He said he was unable to prepare meals, use cutlery, or drive when applying for disability payments, and he was overpaid £13,502 by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But during a police investigation, he was seen driving, exercising in the gym, dancing at a party, and arm-wrestling.

Sakib admitted the fraud as well as a second count of conspiracy to defraud having used a motability vehicle belonging to one of his tenants, and the theft of a tenant’s benefits, who had died.

His 51-year-old mother, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, had stated in a disability benefit application in 2015 that she had schizophrenia, severe back pain, vertigo, blackouts, severe arthritis and joint stiffness, a heart problem and diabetes.

She also claimed she had anxiety and needed assistance to eat, drink and dress but police found many of her claims were no longer true.

Her other sons Faisal Zarif, 31, and Atif Zarif, 20, had claimed to act as carers and were previously sentenced for their part in the conspiracy.

Faisal, who was overpaid almost £11,425, was given a 20-week sentence suspended for 12 months while Atif, who received more than £2,500 in associated benefits, was given a community order and unpaid work.

Det Sgt Stu Peall said the family, who drove expensive cars and own a portfolio of properties, were “motivated by pure greed”.

As part of the convictions the money will be paid back, the force said.

Coronavirus: Five arrested in Isle of Man Abbotswood care home probe

Five people have been arrested as part of an investigation into the deaths of 20 residents with Covid-19 at a care home on the Isle of Man.

An independent probe into Abbotswood Nursing Home in Ballasalla was halted in June when police were brought in.

In a letter to residents’ relatives seen exclusively by the BBC, the Isle of Man Constabulary said it had quizzed five people about suspected “criminal and/or health and safety offences”.

Police refused to give more details.

No more information about the five arrests has been disclosed.

The precise grounds of arrest have also not been divulged.

A spokesman said: “IOM Constabulary can confirm the information detailed and will not be making any more comment on the investigation.”

The letter read: “The compiling of the report and associated documentation is already under way for us to seek independent UK advice on the matter.

“The individuals have all been bailed to mid-February to allow sufficient time for this to take place.”

At least 47 of the care home’s residents tested positive earlier this year.

Its licence was suspended due to serious safety concerns.

The Department of Health and Social Care stepped in to run the home on 13 April after an outbreak of the virus and residents were moved out the following month.

An independent investigation was launched in May on behalf of the Registration and Inspection Unit, which is responsible for ensuring that care services on the Isle of Man comply with regulations.

In June investigators recommended the matter be passed to police.

As a result, that probe and a separate review by the safeguarding board were both put on hold.

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