Facebook Vows to Block Discriminatory Employment Advertisements

It is illegal – in California and across the U.S., per the EEOC –  to discriminate against a job applicant based on their race, color, religion, gender (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy) national origin, age (over 40), disability or genetic information. Yet one of the most frequently-used forums to lure new hires has essentially been facilitating just that, according to critics and a few employment lawsuits filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Communication Workers of America. Los Angeles employment discrimination attorney

Social media giant Facebook has faced years of criticism that it allowed companies advertising job listings to use key categories allowing employers to cherry-pick who their ads would be shown to based on age group, gender and race. The New York Times now reports Facebook has agreed it will stop doing this.

It’s not just prospective employees that have been complaining either. Those advertising credit and housing have also been allowed to screen their ads so that they would only show to a certain subset of social media users. (Housing and credit are also regulated by federal anti-discrimination laws that bar selection of applicants on such bases.)

There are more than 1 billion Facebook users, with about 170 million of those in the U.S. That is more than half the American population. Considering that population includes people who cannot work, either due to age or disability, it’s safe to say most working Americans are on Facebook. Los Angeles employment discrimination attorneys know there is no lawful reason Facebook needed to allow this kind of pre-employment selection of potential applicant pools.

Facebook now vows that advertisements explicitly narrowing job applicants based on these characteristics would not longer be an option. The same would apply for Messenger and Instgram, which the company also owns. But it’s not as if the corporation simply did this of their own volition/goodness of their hearts. It is part of a settlement to quell the rising tide of employment discrimination litigation. The company’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg called the settlement “historic,” but our thinking is it should have occurred much sooner.

The changes would be implemented by the end of the year, and Facebook’s payout to settle five separate lawsuits related to these allegedly discriminatory practices will be less than $5 million. (It doesn’t including a settlement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is still being negotiated.)

Numerous news organizations, including The Times but also ProPublica and others have launched in-depth investigations into the ways in which Facebook allowed users to take advantage of its targeted ad tools to tailor job advertisements in ways that would limit certain groups (workers over 40, women, etc.) from seeing those job listings.

Los Angeles employment discrimination attorneys know that while scrapping these tools is certainly a positive, the reality is the company is really just removing the explicit ability to carry out employment discrimination. There is concern it still doesn’t fully address the problem. For example, even if an employer posts a job listing advertisement with intent to show it to both older and younger workers, the social media firm’s algorithms work in such a way that if more younger workers are clicking on it, they are in the end going to be more likely to see it – meaning older workers could still be closed out, never seeing those posts.

Facebook’s top brass said it is aware of this potential issue, and is working with third parties to try to find ways to ferret out discriminatory hiring practices using its platform.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Facebook Halts Ad Targeting Cited in Bias Complaints, March 2019, By Noam Scheiber and Mike Isaac, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

California Courts Nix Non-Solicitation Clauses in Employment Agreements, March 6, 2019, Los Angeles Employment Discrimination Attorney Blog