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.”

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.

Brexit: Prospect of breakthrough receding in UK-EU talks

The “prospect” of a “breakthrough” in post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and EU is “receding”, according to a senior government source.

They told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that the bloc’s team were “bringing new elements into the negotiation” at the “eleventh hour”.

But the source said a breakthrough was “still possible in the next few days”.

Talks between the two sides continue into the night in London before current trading rules expire on 31 December.

They are urgently seeking compromises in key areas, including fishing rights, competition rules and how an agreement should be enforced.

The UK and EU have been locked in talks since March to determine their future relations once the UK’s Brexit transition period ends in less than four weeks’ time.

Earlier, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTE on Thursday that talks were “at the very end”.

Speaking ahead of Brexit meetings in Paris with his French counterpart, he said efforts were under way to close negotiations “in the next few days”.

What happens next with Brexit?

Boris Johnson has said the UK remains “absolutely committed” to “getting a deal if we can”.

Speaking on Wednesday, the prime minister said the EU side “know what the UK bottom line is,” as talks continued in what is seen as a crucial week.

Negotiators got back to work in London on Thursday morning – face-to-face talks have been ongoing since the weekend after a week-long pause.

I’m told that EU and UK negotiators will work late into the night on Thursday, as they did on Wednesday, and “this is the big push”.

EU sources predict the “bulk of outstanding work” on a deal could be done in the next 24 hours, but that fine-tuning could take a few more days.

EU sources also say that if the outline of a deal is there, there will most likely be a meeting between Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

There are concerns amongst EU countries about “state aid” rules governing business subsidies, and how to enforce agreed environmental and labour standards.

Domestic political pressure has also led France, as well as traditional UK ally Denmark, to sound pretty hardline over the issue of fishing rights.

But for the majority of EU, the priority is agreeing the rest of the deal – and ensuring the bloc’s single market is adequately protected.

If that’s the case, compromising on fish is viewed by the EU as a necessary evil. But the debate will be over how much, and how soon.

EU coastal countries don’t want to lose out more than others. And EU leaders need to sell the deal at home too.

On Thursday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters: “If the choice is a deal or no deal, then a deal is obviously in the national interest.”

He said he was “consulting across the Labour Party” on whether the party’s MPs should back a deal if it comes to a vote in the Commons, and would decide after examining the contents of the deal.

He denied Labour was split over the issue, after reports he was planning to ask his MPs to vote in favour but some shadow cabinet members want to abstain.

“We’ve pulled together incredibly over the last few months through difficult decisions, and we’ll do so on this decision again,” he added.

The government has not confirmed how it intends to ratify a deal in Parliament.

But the UK’s chief negotiator Lord David Frost has said he assumed MPs would have to approve a law to implement “at least some elements” of a deal.

Brexit bill controversy

The negotiations are continuing ahead of a politically sensitive moment next week, when a controversial piece of Brexit legislation returns to the Commons.

The Internal Market Bill, which would allow ministers to override sections of the UK’s withdrawal agreement, will come back before MPs next Monday.

The publication of the bill in September sent shockwaves through the talks, and led to the EU Commission beginning legal proceedings against the UK.

But on Thursday, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said the government intends to reinsert contentious clauses taken out of the bill by the House of Lords.

The PM’s spokesman added the bill was a “legal safety net” to protect the UK internal market, in case talks about detailed arrangements for the Irish border break down.

On Wednesday, MPs are also set to vote on a new taxation bill that will reportedly contain similar powers to override the withdrawal agreement over the issues of customs and VAT.

EU leaders are due to meet next Thursday in Brussels for a scheduled summit.

Neil McEvoy faces 21 day Senedd ban for aggressive incident

A Welsh politician is facing losing 21 days salary after he was found to have been “physically and verbally aggressive” to Labour’s Mick Antoniw.

A probe heard how the Pontypridd politician was left “upset and shaken” after Neil McEvoy remonstrated with him in the Senedd in May 2019.

One witness said it “looked as though Neil was going to punch Mick”.

Mr McEvoy accused the committee that made the ruling of being “gutless red Tories”.

The standards committee of the Senedd found that Mr McEvoy committed a “severe breach” of the code of conduct and had showed “contempt” for colleagues.

It called for the Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central to be banned from the Senedd for 21 days, which if ratified would be the longest ban ever handed out in the parliament for poor behaviour.

The ruling follows an investigation by former standards commissioner Sir Roderick Evans, who completed the probe months before his resignation prompted by secret recordings made by Mr McEvoy.

Six members of Senedd staff gave interviews about the incident involving Mr Antoniw, according to a report.

“Descriptions of [Mr McEvoy’s] conduct reveal a level of aggression that would not be acceptable in licensed premises let alone in the National Assembly in front of members of staff and members of the public,” Sir Roderick wrote.

Mr McEvoy appealed against the committee’s ruling – made before Sir Roderick’s resignation – to a high court judge. Sir John Griffith Williams dismissed the appeal in April of this year.

Mr Antoniw complained to Sir Roderick that the Member of the Senedd (MS) for South Wales Central had approached him in an “aggressive manner and raised voice” outside the Senedd’s debating chamber, “insulting me and saying something about how dare I call him a bully”.

The Labour backbencher said it was “likely a follow on” from when Mr Antoniw had called Mr McEvoy a “convicted bully” in the chamber a week earlier.

Mr Antoniw told Mr McEvoy “several times” that he did not want to speak to him, but the former Plaid Cymru politician “continued ranting at me”, following him and “physically blocking my path”.

In his complaint to Sir Roderick the MS said: “I told him not to speak to me or I would report him to the Standards Commissioner. He said ‘go on then. I know all about you, you red Tory, you are just a bully, I know all about you. You’re a coward in your big group. I will get you’,” Mr Antoniw told Sir Roderick.

A witness in the area outside the chamber, known as the Cwrt, said: “Had I seen that behaviour outside the Assembly, in a pub for example, I would have expected violence from Neil McEvoy.”

The incident took place as staff were preparing for the day’s plenary debating session. Witnesses described how the incident continued within the Senedd chamber itself – in view of the public gallery.

From there, Mr McEvoy was seen “pacing in an animated fashion between Mr Antoniw’s seat and his own”.

The witness said Mr McEvoy “appeared to be struggling to retain his composure. I did not know what he would do next.

“It appeared to me that the incident could be the prelude to something worse”.

One individual present in the chamber itself said they were in “two minds about whether to ask security to enter the chamber, as it looked as if things would escalate.

“Mick remained calm, but I could see that he was upset and shaken by the whole thing.”

A staff member told Sir Roderick that he saw “Neil out of his seat and pointing in Mick’s face and he seemed not to care where he was or who was around him”.

Another member of staff told Sir Roderick: “It looked as though Neil was going to punch Mick. I have never seen anyone so angry.”

“Neil was so cross that he didn’t care he was in the chamber and the public gallery was open and also our chief executive was also in the room,” a witness added.

Mr McEvoy, in evidence to the committee, disputed the accounts of the complainant Mr Antoniw, and the account of some witnesses that state he got up “two or three times” in the Senedd chamber.

There was no CCTV footage of the incident inside the chamber, but there was outside.

Mr McEvoy, who is also a Cardiff councillor, told the committee the footage called into question some of the statements made by witnesses and the complaint.

The committee decided not to view the footage on data protection grounds and was “persuaded on the balance of evidence”. The commissioner, it said, found enough evidence to support the complaint without needing to rely on CCTV footage.

But the committee said that during the evidence session he accepted that “he had lost his temper and that his behaviour towards Mick Antoniw MS was aggressive”.

It has recommended Mr McEvoy is excluded from the Senedd for 21 days, a decision that will need to be ratified by the Welsh Parliament next Wednesday.

“To be physically and verbally aggressive to another individual is not acceptable in any walk of life, but particularly not by those who are meant to lead by example,” they said.

“Everybody is entitled to feel safe in their workplace and in this instance that did not happen.”

In a response to BBC Wales Mr McEvoy raised questions about the process and added: “It’s no surprise to me that the first Welsh born person of colour is being given the longest ban in Senedd history for saying a few choice words to a Labour politician.

“They are gutless Red Tories.”

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