Lawsuit: Facebook being used to discriminate against older workers

A proposed class action lawsuit aimed at companies allegedly using Facebook to target job ads to younger workers has been expanded to identify additional companies, according to a report from Bloomberg. The move further widens claims that candidates are being filtered out by age, gender, and geography using the social network’s ad-targeting tools.

According to the amended complaint filed by the Communications Workers of America, “When Facebook’s own algorithm disproportionately directs ads to younger workers at the exclusion of older workers, Facebook and the advertisers who are using Facebook as an agent to send their advertisements are engaging in disparate treatment.”

The CWA is suing on behalf of union members who missed out on job opportunities when major companies directed their ads to younger workers — as well as workers fitting different demographic profiles. The initial complaint, filed in December, named Inc., Cox Media Group, Cox Communications Inc., and T-Mobile, as well as other employers and employment agencies that possibly ran afoul of the law when using Facebook’s tools to filter out job hunters when seeking to hire for jobs. The amended complaint adds Ikea, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the University of Maryland Medical System to its list of companies that allegedly used Facebook’s tools to filter by age.

The University of Maryland Medical System denied any allegations of age discrimination to Bloomberg; the other companies declined to comment.

The modern history of age discrimination on social media

A report by ProPublica and the New York Times in December of last year found that dozens of the nation’s top employers — including AmazonVerizonGoldman SachsUPS, and Facebook — are using Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn to create recruitment ads that target only younger job seekers. For example, a HubSpot ad explicitly aimed at people aged 27 to 40 appeared on Facebook last November, according to screenshots in the report. The limited age range meant that people outside of those ranges would not see the ad on Facebook.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits employment bias against people 40 or older, makes it illegal to use age as the only factor when hiring. Unlike strictly protected classes like race and gender, however, age does get more leeway as a consideration, and employers can take other “reasonable factors” into account.

In December, when the lawsuit was first filed, Facebook’s Vice President of Advertisements, Rob Goldman, defended the company’s practices: “Facebook tailors our employment ads by audience … “we completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory.” Goldman said the company works with advertisers to make sure they’re complying with the law. Facebook also requires companies to check a box certifying that they are not using ad targeting for discriminatory purposes. “Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work,” Goldman said.

Facebook’s history with ageism

Facebook has gotten into trouble with age discrimination before. Two lawsuits last September contended that the social media giant was not an inclusive space for older workers. And on the same day that the ProPublica and Times report came out, the Communications Workers of America labor union also accused Facebook of age discrimination, filing its lawsuit on behalf of Facebook users 40 or older who were denied the opportunity to see jobs through the company’s age-based targeting.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also once had this to say famously about older workers: “Young people are just smarter,” he said in a speech to Y Combinator. “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical…. Why are most chess masters under 30?… I don’t know… Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family.”