Judge OKs $85 mln settlement of Facebook moderators' PTSD claims

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A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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  • Facebook accused of not protecting content moderators from psychological harm
  • Company had claimed class action treatment was inappropriate
  • Settlement includes $52 million for mental health treatment

July 23 - A California state judge has approved a settlement worth $85 million between Facebook Inc and a class of more than 10,000 content moderators who had accused the company of failing to protect them from psychological injuries resulting from their exposure to graphic and violent imagery, the workers' lawyers said.

The deal approved by Superior Court Judge Raymond Swope in Redwood City includes the creation of a $52 million fund for ongoing mental health treatment and other payments to class members in four states. Individual workers will receive at least $1,000 and up to $50,000, class counsel said in a press release on Thursday.

Swope approved the settlement on July 14 and his written decision was released on Thursday.

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Facebook also agreed to take measures to provide its content moderators, who are employed by third-party vendors, with safer work environments, including by providing coaching sessions with mental health counselors and enhanced review tools.

Facebook, represented by Emily Henn of Covington & Burling, did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The plaintiffs' lawyers at the Joseph Saveri Law Firm and Burns Charest called the lawsuit groundbreaking and said the settlement would allow content moderators to receive medical treatment for conditions caused by their work.

“This settlement provides immediate change, and real financial compensation for content moderators," Steve Williams of the Joseph Saveri Law Firm said in a statement.

Facebook, which has over 2.6 billion monthly active users worldwide, is one of the largest users of content moderation services.

Filed in September 2018, the lawsuit said content moderators are routinely exposed to graphic content like child sexual abuse, beheadings and murder and are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological issues.

The plaintiffs alleged that Facebook failed to properly train content moderators or put safeguards in place to limit their exposure to graphic content.

They accused Facebook of negligence and violating California business law banning unfair competition by failing to provide a "safe work environment."

Prior to the settlement, Facebook's lawyers had argued that the workers' risk of developing mental health issues depends on a variety of factors including genetics, psychological history and personal circumstances outside the workplace, and that thus the claims were not suitable for class action treatment.

Swope did not have a chance to rule on those claims before the settlement was reached last year.

The case is Scola v. Facebook Inc, California Superior Court, San Mateo County, No. 18-civ-5135.

For the plaintiffs: Steve Williams of the Joseph Saveri Law Firm and Daniel Charest of Burns Charest

For Facebook: Emily Henn of Covington & Burling

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.