ACLU says Facebook allowed employers to post job ads that excluded women

Facebook’s advertising platform allows employers to target the company’s two billion active users with tailored job ads. But that can come at a cost of job seekers not seeing the ad, a new complaint alleges.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and 10 other employers, including a moving company and a police department, for unlawfully excluding women and non-binary people from seeing job ads. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to discriminate based on gender. The ACLU alleges that the social media giant allowed advertisers to create “male-targeted ads” that excluded women from seeing them, denying them “information on job opportunities.” According to the filing, for example, one of the ads for JK Moving allegedly targeted men age 21 to 55 who live or were recently in Maryland. The charges were filed on behalf of three women and seeks to represent the “millions” of Facebook users who may have also been similarly excluded.

“I was shocked to find that this discrimination is still happening, just online instead of in newspapers,” Bobbi Spees, the lead complainant, told the ACLU in a statement. “I shouldn’t be shut out of the chance to hear about a job opportunity just because I am a woman,” Spees told the New York Times that she was using Facebook in her job hunt with little success for jobs other than home and health; meanwhile, her husband was getting leads for high-paying manual jobs through the social network.

The ACLU complaint argues that Facebook is not just a middleman for jobs, but acts as an employment agency and is therefore liable for the discriminatory targeting. “Social media has become a primary means for big and small employers to identify, recruit, and hire workers, particularly through the use of targeted ads,” the complaint states.

The complaint details how employers can target job ads based on “male only” or “female only” options that Facebook gives. “Facebook has consciously retained the gender targeting tool and deployed it to send employment ads that excluded non-male users from receiving the ads,” the complaint reads.

Not the first time Facebook’s job ads have caused controversy

Facebook’s ability to target job ads keeps getting the social media company into legal trouble. In December, ProPublica and The New York Times reported that Facebook recruitment ads were excluding older job seekers from seeing them. Then, Facebook defended itself, saying that ad targeting based on age was “an accepted industry practice.” Now, faced with another ad-targeting controversy, Facebook said it would review the complaint.

“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a statement. “We look forward to defending our practices once we have an opportunity to review the complaint.”