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UPDATE 1-Kenya judge finds Meta is not in contempt of court

(Adds Sama comment)

NAIROBI, Dec 7 (Reuters) - A Kenyan judge on Thursday found Facebook's parent company Meta was not in contempt of court for failing to pay dozens of content moderators that a contractor laid off.

Labour judge Mathews Nduma Nderi said Meta did not "deliberately and contemptuously" breach a court order requiring it to pay wages of hundreds of Facebook content moderators.

"They did various things which they thought were lawful in trying to deal with their situation but we did not find that what they did amounted to contempt," Nderi said.

This year, 184 moderators sued Meta and two contractors, saying their union organising efforts had cost them their jobs with one of the firms, Sama.

The plaintiffs alleged they were then blacklisted from applying for the same roles at the second firm, Majorel, after Facebook changed contractors. Out-of-court settlement talks collapsed in October.

A Meta spokesman declined to comment.

Sama said in a statement it was pleased with the ruling that both it and Meta were not in contempt of court. "The Kenyan court once again affirmed its desire to see this matter settled out of court, and we remain open and eager to work with petitioners directly to find an amicable solution," it added.

Majorel did not respond to a request for comment.

Meta has previously responded to allegations of a poor working environment in Kenya by saying it requires partners to provide industry-leading conditions.

Sama said previously that it had always followed Kenyan law and provided mental health services to its employees. Majorel has said it does not comment on pending or active litigation.

Nderi accepted a request by the plaintiffs' lawyer Merci Mutemi to be given 45 days to amend the contempt of court petition, and said that unless the matter was resolved out of court, the case would be given priority for the court to determine its merits.

British tech rights group Foxglove, which is supporting the plaintiffs, said it was eager to bring the case to trial.

"We remain confident of our case overall, as we have prevailed on every substantive point so far," Foxglove director Martha Dark said in a statement to Reuters. "The most important ruling remains the one we won in June: Meta can no longer hide behind outsourcers to excuse the exploitation and abuse of its content moderators." (Reporting by Humphrey Malalo and Hereward Holland; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross, Barbara Lewis and David Gregorio)

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