Ray Holgado, former employee of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, recently filed a racial discrimination complaint with the California Department for Fair Employment and Housing. Holgado, who is black, worked at CZI from September 2018 to August 2020.
"Despite its rhetoric of social justice, CZI is not a welcoming environment for black employees," Holgado's complaint said. “Black employees are underpaid, undervalued, have no growth opportunities and are being marginalized. Black employees who want to move forward within the organization are closed down and deemed too assertive or aggressive, while non-black employees are preferred and encouraged. When black employees shared these concerns with the CZI leadership, CZI responded defensively and did not address the underlying issues. CZI has completely failed to build a more inclusive, fairer and healthier future for its black employees.
In his complaint, Holgado alleged that he was paid less than some of his colleagues who did similar work to him. According to the complaint, a recruiter denied Holgado's request to negotiate his salary, but later found that other non-black employees were able to negotiate a higher salary. Holgado went on to describe other cases where he was allegedly denied promotion and growth opportunities and treated differently because of his race.
In addition to his own experience, Holgado says that the alleged problems of discrimination at CZI are systematic. According to the complaint, Holgado told CZI co-founder Priscilla Chan that the organization's approach to diversity has been successful in retaining black people but has not done enough to empower black workers "or incorporate their perspectives into work" According to the complaint. In response, Chan admitted to the complaint that this was worrying but said, "DEI may look different for each of us."
CZI denied the claims in a statement to TechCrunch.
"While we take every allegation of discrimination seriously and will do so here, the specific allegations of this former employee were previously raised internally, independently investigated and found to be unfounded," said the spokesman. “The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is committed to fair treatment, access and further development of all members of the CZI team. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination. "
This complaint comes after a group of 70+ staff asked the CZI in June to commit to 12 changes that would make philanthropy more inclusive. Then, in August, the Washington Post reported that some black employees were pushing CZI to approach more work through a racist justice lens. They wrote a letter to Chan describing how CZI has problems with systemic racism, discrimination and anti-blackness. Holgado was part of that group.
"Unfortunately, Chan once again failed to understand the seriousness of the questions raised in the letter and refused to respond to several requests from the group. In particular, he refused to provide transparency about CZI's equal pay data for black employees," Holgado wrote today National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. “Instead of working through the action plan presented by black workers, she hired a recently appointed chief operating officer to devise and implement an alternative course of action. After seeing the dynamic of passing the money on and appeasing employees with half measures that were played several times in the foundation, I realized that further efforts would be in vain. "
TechCrunch has reached out to CZI and will update this story if we hear anything.