5 min read

Facebook has been in the news for privacy and data related controversies and scandals lately.

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and 10 other organizations that advertised on the platform for discriminatory job advertisements on Facebook on the basis of gender and age.

What is the complaint against Facebook?

The case for the complaint is that certain job ads on Facebook were displayed only to male Facebook users, excluding women and transgender resulting in them not being able to see the ads.

The complaint shows that Facebook provides advertisers with a “Lookalike Audience” tool to determine the target audience of Facebook users based on their sex and age. In fact, Facebook itself uses the “Lookalike Audience” tool to recruit for jobs at Facebook and Instagram.

Charges are filed against a number of employers and employment agencies that are considered predominantly male-oriented industries such as construction, trucking, roofing and moving. However, on closer examination, the list also includes abas-USA, a software company. They used Facebook’s ad platform to advertise job vacancies such as ‘sales development representative’ by choosing to target the ads at only men between the age of 21 and 50.

abas USA facebook targeted ad


Source: ACLU’s Exhibit on abas

Below is the list of companies sues alongside Facebook of sex and age based discrimination in employment.

abas USA, ERP software developer
Defenders, Inc., home security systems company
Nebraska Furniture Mart, a of home furniture retailer
City of Greensboro, NC Police Department
Need Work Today, an employment agency for farm, construction, trucking and aviation employers
Renewal by Andersen LLC, window replacement and installation company
Rice Tire, a tire retailer and auto repair services
JK Moving Services, the largest independent moving company in the US
Enhanced Roofing & Modeling, a roofing and remodeling company
Xenith, manufacturer and retailer of athletics equipment

Why is gender and age based job discrimination wrong?

Advertisements account for most of Facebook’s revenues, and targeted ads allow advertisers to generate better ROI on advertising. This is done by the data provided by users and then tailoring the ads accordingly.

This selective display of ads benefits both the employment agencies and Facebook as it receives money for doing so, says the complaint.

One might argue that many postings for job roles like mechanics or truck drivers, were in male-dominated fields and not displaying them to female users does not discriminate against them as they would have not applied for those jobs anyway. Social convention may have one believe that women or older people might be less competent for roles that require heavy physical toiling. But by not allowing users to decide for themselves whether to apply for a given role, Facebook enabled gender and ageism discrimination by employers.

As per the law, no job opportunities should be hidden on the basis of any discrimination. The EEOC home page reads as follows:

“…it (is) illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.”

How is the public reacting to this development?

Some people are happy with the filing and some are displeased with Facebook for this.

A comment by reddit user Racecarlock reads “Facebook is officially my new word for douchebag”.

There are encouraging comments like “There are plenty of female truck drivers who’d like a chance to be included. The cancer-inducing comments here should show themselves the door.” by user boxinafox.

Another reddit comment by Sorge74 read “I wouldn’t want my ads targeting 70 year olds if it cost me more money to do so. But I can definitely see how that would be illegal.

While there are job portals specifically for finding jobs, people in need could miss out on a potential job opportunity if they’re unable to see a Facebook job advertisement.

What’s next?

The ACLU website states: “Facebook has come under heavy scrutiny regarding its paid advertising platform, and whether it allows and encourages advertisers to engage in prohibited discrimination based on protected categories like race, national origin, age, and now gender.

This charge is meant to end all class-based discriminatory treatment and its impact. It includes all other class-based claims that are actionable under Title VII. The charges are filed on behalf of all individuals across USA who have been excluded employment advertisements via Facebook’s advertising platform based on their sex and age.

The complaint states that through the field charge, and legal action, female and other non-male members, seek all injunctive, equitable, legal, monetary, punitive, and/or other forms of relief or damages that are available under Title VII.

If facebook is found guilty of the charges, it may mean a major overhaul for Facebook as a product from what kind of data they collect on users to what kind of targeting options they provide their advertisers. You can expect Facebook to fight these charges tooth and nail as this could directly hit their bottom line significantly.

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

You can read the brief and complaint from the ACLU website.

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