Online Employment Ads Allegedly Discriminate Against Older Candidates
A federal lawsuit was filed in San Francisco on behalf of the Communications Workers of America and three recently unemployed workers who use Facebook and other sites to look for jobs. The filing alleges that major employers, such as Verizon, Target, Godman Sachs, Amazon, and T-Mobile, are violating the federal age discrimination law by placing employment ads online geared only toward younger users. Facebook launched a job ads section earlier this year. The section allows advertisers to select their audiences through user data collection.
The complaint includes screenshots showing a job ad for Facebook’s recruiting team along with a caption, “Why am I seeing this ad?” The ad specifies that Facebook Careers “wants to reach people ages 21 to 55 who live or were recently in the United States.” Ads with similar content are displayed on other employers’ sites. The suit seeks an injunction, a statement that the targeted ads are against the law, and compensation for workers denied job opportunities. Outten & Golden is representing the plaintiffs. “It’s blatantly unlawful,” said Debra Katz, a Washington employment attorney who represents victims of discrimination.
Facebook has argued it is protected from liability for employment ads by the Communications Decency Act, which shields websites from liability for third-party content. In a statement, Facebook vice president of advertising, Rob Goldman, says the company’s “Why am I seeing this ad?” button has set the industry standard for transparency.
Goldman acknowledges that federal law bars discrimination in employment based on age. “That said, simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google may not in itself be discriminatory—just as it can be okay to run employment ads in magazines and on TV shows targeted at younger or older people. What matters is that marketing is broadly based and inclusive, not simply focused on a particular age group.”
Facebook helps to educate advertisers on the legal requirements and employers must sign an agreement that their ads will comply with federal laws. Amazon spokeswoman, Nina Lindsey, claimed a recent audit of its recruiting ads “discovered some had targeting that was inconsistent with our approach of searching for any candidate over the age of 18.” The ads were temporarily removed and corrected.
Several companies argued that targeted recruiting on Facebook is comparable to advertising opportunities in publications like the AARP magazine or Teen Vogue, which are aimed at particular age groups. However, online, people outside the targeted age groups can be excluded in ways they will never learn about if they don’t fall within the parameters of the data collection programming.
“What happens with Facebook is you don’t know what you don’t know,” said David Lopez, a former general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who is one of the attorneys at the firm Outten & Golden bringing the age discrimination case on behalf of the communication workers union. The argument would be that Facebook is contributing to the development of the targeted ad, according to Deirdre Mulligan, a faculty director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.