Court dismisses contempt charges against Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meta

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. FILE PHOTO | AFP

Facebook owners have survived contempt charges in Kenya after a judge ruled that the former content moderators who have sued the company did not prove the social media giant willfully disobeyed a directive blocking their dismissal from employment.

More than 180 Facebook content moderators wanted Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg and other officials of the giant company, alongside owners of outsourcing firms Samasource Kenya EPZ and Majorel Kenya Ltd summoned to court to explain why they should be punished, for disobeying a court order blocking their dismissal.

The moderators submitted that some of their contracts were terminated and the employees were given terminal dues despite the court order, blocking the move. They added that they were sent on compulsory leave and ambiguous terms.

Employment and Labour Relations Court noted that Samasource had sent the employees on paid leave because it no longer had a contract with Meta.

Justice Mathews Nduma said Samasource was constrained to balance between its sustainability and complying with the court order.

“In any event, sending employees on paid leave indefinitely on grounds that no work was available is strictly speaking not a variance of the moderators’ terms of the contract but was indeed a constructive termination,” said the judge.

“There is no proof that the first, second, or fourth respondents are in willful contempt of the orders of court issued on March 20, 2023, in this regard.”

However, the judge said the outsourcing firms would have to prove during the hearing that they had a valid reason to send the workers on leave and did so lawfully and in a fair procedure.

The former employees had accused Meta of hiring other moderators through Majorel Kenya for the eastern and southern Africa region, undermining the authority and dignity of the court and subjecting it to contempt in the eyes of the public.

They argued, through their lawyer Mercy Mutemi, that the breach of the court order created a nightmare for them as they lacked income to sustain them in Kenya, with a majority of them being foreigners since the court had directed that they remain in Kenya until the case ends.

Dublin-based Joanne Redmond, a director and associate general counsel at Meta Platforms, Ireland, had defended the firm, saying it was unaware of issues the moderators raised as they were former employees of Samasource, whose contract with Meta expired.

Majorel Kenya on its part submitted that before the case was filed, it had recruited its own 230 members on its content moderation project but they remain idle yet majority of them are foreigners.

The moderators sued Facebook owner- Meta Platforms, Inc and Meta Platforms Ireland Limited, Samasource and Majorel Kenya.

They are also seeking compensation for unfair termination of employment equivalent to twelve months’ gross salary, damages amounting to Sh10 million per moderator for unfair labour practices and a further Sh20 million each, for violation of their rights.

The Facebook moderators moved to court in March and blocked their termination but the court heard that their contracts came to an end on March 31, 2023 and their employer initiated a redundancy process.

Meta had initially challenged the case arguing that Kenyan courts do not have jurisdiction to determine a case brought against foreign entities.

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