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Is Facebook Now Discriminating Against Female Job Applicants?

— September 27, 2018

Is Facebook Now Discriminating Against Female Job Applicants?

A group of job applicants is accusing Facebook of helping employers exclude female candidates from their recruiting efforts.  This gender-related lawsuit comes after the social media giant has already been in the hot seat for allegedly allowing employers to discriminate on the basis of age and landlords to discriminate on the basis of race.

Facebook recently chose to eliminate 5,000 options which enable advertisers to gear their ads toward specific groups but claimed that this move was unrelated to the housing and age discrimination allegations.   In response to the housing issue, María Farías, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said, “The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse.  When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door in someone’s face.”

Is Facebook Now Discriminating Against Female Job Applicants?
Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

There is still a pending suit in federal court in San Francisco that alleges Facebook is enabling employment discrimination against older candidates.  Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that allowing employers to restrict age, “shows what Facebook cares about: its bottom line. There is real money in age-restricted discrimination.”

Now, job seekers, with the help of the Communications Workers of America and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have filed charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and nine employers.  The employers named in the litigation appear to have used Facebook’s targeting technology to exclude women for jobs like ‘truck driver’ and ‘window installer’.  The charges were filed on behalf of any women who may have been searching for a position on Facebook during the past year and would not have been able to see these ads.

Debra Katz, a Washington-based employment attorney who is not involved in the case, said the Facebook-based advertising campaigns appeared to violate federal anti-discrimination laws.  “That seems pretty egregious,” she said.  “The fact that they’re using this tool to facilitate discrimination absolves neither the hiring business nor Facebook.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they discovered the targeting by supervising a group of employees who performed job searches through their Facebook accounts and clicked on a variety of employment ads.  For each ad, the job hunters pulled up a standard Facebook disclosure explaining why they received it.

The disclosure for those ads that were potentially discriminatory said the users received them because they were men, often between a certain age and in a certain location.  This seemed to suggest that they would not have been able to view the position had they been female, and there were no filters allowing users to navigate to similar disclosures because they were female.  In principle, there should have been both.  The attorneys collected the ads between October 2017 and August 2018.

A Facebook spokesman responded to the court filing, “There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies.  We are reviewing the complaint and look forward to defending our practices.”


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