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The US is suing Peter Thiel’s secretive data startup for discriminating against Asians

Palantir, last valued by investors at $20 billion, is considered one of the world's most valuable private startups
Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Working at Palantir sounds pretty sweet. According to jobs site Glassdoor, the secretive data analysis startup pays software engineers six-figure salaries, and interns can get $7,500 a month plus corporate housing in places like Palo Alto or New York.

But according to the Department of Labor, white applicants have a dramatically unfair advantage in landing those gigs.

In a lawsuit against the Palo Alto tech company filed Monday, the government charges Palantir with violating federal law by "using a hiring process and selection procedures that discriminated against Asian applicants for software engineering positions on the basis of their race."


The filing says that from a pool of 1,160 "qualified applicants" of whom "approximately 85 percent were Asian" for software engineering jobs, the company selected 14 non-Asian applicants and 11 Asian applicants. And for quality assurance engineering intern roles, the company hired 17 non-Asian applicants and 4 Asian applicants from a pool of 130 candidates that was "approximately 73 percent Asian." The government further charges that Palantir screened Asian applicants at the resume stage, and also discriminated against them when referred by Palantir employees.

Palantir, last valued by investors at $20 billion, is considered one of the world's most valuable private startups, though it has had a rough 2016.

BuzzFeed News earlier this year reported on how Palantir's data mining technology and services were too expensive to swallow for a number of corporate clients, and some investors have revised down the company's value by as much as 32 percent.

Today's lawsuit could make investors further bearish on the company: A significant chunk of Palantir's business comes from work with the federal government.

The Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs – which reviewed the last six years of Palantir's hiring practices — says that if Palantir "fails to provide relief as ordered," it will request "the cancellation of all of the company's government contracts and debarment from entering into future federal contracts."

Even in lily-white Silicon Valley, where much if tech is struggling with diversity, the allegations against Palantir stand out. While Facebook, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Dropbox and others have issued "diversity reports" showing their progress (nor non-progress) in hiring a diverse workforce, Palantir has been silent.

Further complicating the situation is that Peter Thiel, one of Palantir's investors and co-founders, has enthusiastically opposed pro-diversity practices like affirmative action in the past. This past summer, Thiel was a delegate for Donald Trump, and he spoke at the Republican National Convention; he has reportedly been short-listed by the Trump campaign for a Supreme Court nomination.

Palantir did not immediately return a call for comment.