A proposed class action lawsuit alleges banks, insurance companies, investment firms and loan officers were able to discriminate against older, female prospective new hires and customers using Facebook Inc.’s targeted ad platforms. The complaint, filed in San Francisco federal court, insists the company allowed financial service and other advertisers target their ads to certain consumers on the basis of age and gender – even though the company has already been taken to task for similar discriminatory ad practices.
If it’s proven that this violated civil rights and employment rights laws, Facebook could be vulnerable to paying billions in damages to users across the country.
An attorney for the plaintiffs told Reuters the relative novelty of the internet doesn’t usurp the civil rights and employment law protections that Americans enjoy. A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company is taking the time to review the complaint, and expressed pride with the gains the social media giant has made on this front over the last few years.
“Gains” would be one way to put it. It’s been little more than 6 months since the company agreed to revamp its entire targeted advertisement system, including on Messenger and Instagram platforms, as part of an agreement to settle a flood of employment/civil rights lawsuits alleging employers, banks and property owners were given a platform to discriminate on the basis of zip code, gender and age when posting advertisements for new jobs, housing and credit offers.
Facebook has continued to work on implementing those changes to its ad system – yet companies can still narrow their target search ads on the basis of both age and gender. For example, a lender can target loan offers to “men 30 and older” or “people 25 to 40.” Both California and federal law hold that employment discrimination on the basis of age against anyone over 40 is actionable and subject to legal remedy. The effect is that some people who may be qualified for a certain job or service never see the ad, while the company/advertiser reaches the audience it considers “desirable.”
Our Los Angeles employment discrimination lawyers know that as the No. 2 seller of online advertisements reaching nearly 3 billion people every month, the potential impact here is massive. Even if it’s true that the company has taken steps to stop employment discrimination, it’s also plain they could be doing much more – and they’ll likely continue to face legal action until they do.
The recent complaint specifically cites the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which under state law ensures that everyone in the state – no matter their race, medical condition, race, sex or other characteristics should be entitled to full, equal advantages, accommodations, privileges, services and facilities in all business establishments. Breaking this law can cost $4,000 per violation, with violations going back at least the last three years. The filters that can be used by business advertisers to determine the demographics of Facebook users who will see ads – and by proxy restrict those who won’t.
Facebook settled half a dozen employment discrimination lawsuits in March for $5 million for targeted employment ads.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Facebook sued for age, gender bias in financial services ads, Oct. 31, 2019, By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters