Incident 192: Three Make-Up Artists Lost Jobs Following Black-Box Automated Decision by HireVue

Description: Three make-up artists lost their positions following an algorithmically-assessed video interview by HireVue who reportedly failed to provide adequate explanation of the findings.
Alleged: HireVue developed an AI system deployed by Estée Lauder, which harmed pseudonymous Estée Lauder's former staff.

Suggested citation format

AIAAIC. (2022-03-17) Incident Number 192. in McGregor, S. (ed.) Artificial Intelligence Incident Database. Responsible AI Collaborative.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
Report Count
Incident Date
Sean McGregor, Khoa Lam


New ReportNew ReportDiscoverDiscover

Incidents Reports

Three make-up artists who lost their jobs after being asked to take a video interview that was assessed by a computer have won a settlement from the cosmetics company Estée Lauder.

The women had been told to reapply for their positions, but were then informed they were being made redundant in part on the basis of an automated judgment by a computer.

The software, created by the recruitment company HireVue, looked at the content of their answers and their expressions, and its results were used alongside other data about their job performance.

In a documentary broadcast last night on BBC3, the women said no one could tell them why they had failed.

One of the women, identified as Anthea, said: “I literally thought we would be videoed and someone would mark it after. I found out that wasn’t the case. Nobody saw the video, it was all algorithms.” Estée Lauder denied not having informed them about the nature of the assessment.

Anthea’s colleague, Lizzie, asked for an explanation of the findings, but was none the wiser. “They pasted the same sentence about algorithms and artificial intelligence and this tiering bucket of 15,000 data points. I still don’t know what all that means . . . to me that isn’t an answer.”

She said that in the interview they were asked questions about putting on make-up — but rather than demonstrating it they had to describe the process, which she found difficult.

Anthea said she felt it was important to push back. “I’m speaking out now so people can hear the truth and people can hear that this is actually happening,” she said. “It needs to be heard and needs to be stopped.”

Automated hiring software is increasingly used to filter out candidates at the earliest stages, and the companies involved claim it can provide a fairer first assessment than simply relying on CVs and covering letters.

Much of the selection process involves psychometric tests and other standardised assessments.

HireVue says it no longer uses visual video analysis software, as its value is marginal. Estée Lauder said that interviewees were fully briefed, and that “using the HireVue process in tandem with human decision-making produces fairer outcomes and we stand by it”.

The women, who had worked for the Estée Lauder subsidiary Mac, received an out-of-court settlement. Lizzie said the hardest part of the experience had been what she perceived as the injustice of it. “I doubted myself massively when all that happened . . . Because she told you you’re not good enough for something. But that was never a valid reason to lose my job. That’s why it was so difficult, because I knew I was good enough but being told I wasn’t was really hard.”

Payout for Estée Lauder women ‘sacked by algorithm’

Three former MAC make-up artists have won their legal challenge against the company’s owner after they were dismissed by the brand due to a failed video interview that was assessed by an algorithm.

Cosmetics giant Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) has settled out of court with three make-up artists who were sacked from their job after failing an interview process that was assessed by an algorithm.

The former MAC retail workers were told by its parent that redundancies were being made, and that they would have to reapply for their roles.

As part of that process, a video interview took place, which was run by US tech company HireVue, and was marked by an algorithm.

All three women lost their jobs following the interview.

“My track record was gleaming, essentially, and I exceeded expectations in everything else, so this interview definitely raised some alarm bells to me,” one woman, identified as Onieka, said in the BBC3 documentary Computer Says No.

Questions in the video interview process, which did not ask for any demonstrations of the make-up artists’ work, included how to create a smokey eye, according to one of the artists.

The three women also said that no one could explain how they were scored in the HireVue interview.

“In my outcome for my appeal, they just, more or less, copy and pasted the same sentence about algorithms and artificial intelligence, and this tiering bucket of 15,000 data points [...] to me that isn't an answer,” another of the women, Lizzie, said.

“It was never a valid reason to lose my job, that's why it was so difficult,” she added.

All three women were unable to discuss the value of the agreement reached with ELC in the documentary.

Anthea, another of the women named in the footage, said: “Using an AI – even now I look at it thinking, how did that even happen, that shouldn’t have happened [...] and I really hope that they’ve [ELC] stopped using it.”

In response to the film, MAC said in a statement: “We have taken steps to counter unconscious bias in all our hiring and promotion decisions.”

ELC added: “All interviewees were told in advance the consultation process would involve HireVue skills assessment and the role that technology would play in the process.”

The beauty heavyweight also maintained that clients were issued with feedback.

“In tandem with human decision making [the HireVue system] produces fairer outcomes and we stand by it,” the company added.

Meanwhile, Kevin Parker, CEO and Chairman of HireVue, said that the video analysis component of HireVue’s algorithm was “voluntarily discontinued nearly two years ago”.

He continued: “Based on our research [...] we concluded the historically minimal value provided by the visual analysis didn’t warrant continuing to incorporate it in the assessments in light of the potential concerns.”

‘Patently false’

In a statement to Cosmetics Business ELC added: “MAC UK & Ireland’s vision is to be the most inclusive and diverse beauty brand in the world and to be the employer of choice for diverse talent.

“We endeavour to treat our employees and candidates with dignity and respect at all times.

“The company takes significant steps to counter unconscious bias in all our employment-related decisions. In the situation described, facial recognition accounted for well under 1% (0.25%) of employees’ overall assessment.

“The company has teams who overlay objective performance-related data and other qualitative feedback, which accounted for the majority of the employment assessment, to make decisions on employment.

“Thus, any suggestion that facial recognition technology played a decisive role in any employment-related decision at MAC UK & Ireland or the Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland is patently false.”

Estée Lauder settles out of court with staff who were ‘sacked by algorithm’