Suit challenges Facebook, employers using features that may hide job opportunities from older workers
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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Suit challenges Facebook, employers using features that may hide job opportunities from older workers

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and three workers have filed a class action in in federal court challenging how Facebook’s paid advertising platform is purportedly used to hide job advertisements and opportunities from older workers nationally. The suit, filed in the Northern District of California, names T-Mobile US, Inc., Amazon.com, Inc., Cox Communications and Media Group, LLC, and similarly situated others. Notably, the plaintiffs are represented by former EEOC General Counsel David Lopez and other attorneys at Outten & Golden.

The complaint alleges that through in-depth investigation the plaintiffs discovered that hundreds of employers and employment agencies are illegally targeting their employment ads on Facebook to exclude older workers who fall outside specified age ranges (such as ages 18 to 40, or ages 22 to 45), purposely blocking older workers from seeing the ads or pursuing job opportunities. This practice violates federal, state, and local laws that bar age discrimination in employment advertising, recruiting, and hiring, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs seek class certification under Rule 23 to represent what they say are millions of job seekers, age 40 and older, who have been denied the chance to even learn of potential job openings. The defendants are large employers and employment agencies in a variety of industries, including technology, entertainment, retail, health care, energy, real estate, staffing firms and agencies, and others. Identified class members would include Capital One, Citadel, Defenders, Fairfield Residential, Leidos, Sleep Number, Triplebyte, and Weichert Realtors.

Targeted audiences. A significant chunk of large employers and employment agencies “routinely use Facebook’s ad platform to exclude older workers from receiving employment ads, primarily by selecting an age range for the ad population that excludes older workers,” according to the complaint. Many companies also purportedly “use Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences feature to send employment ads to workers who are demographically similar to their younger workforces.”

T-Mobile US, a lead defendant in the case, used Facebook ads to recruit applicants for retail stores and other positions nationwide, stating in its employment ads that T-Mobile “wants to reach people ages 18 to 38,” the complaint asserts. The other lead defendants allegedly sent similar ads: Amazon to reach people ages “ages 22 to 40″ and “ages 18 to 50,” and Cox to reach people “ages 20 to 45″ and “ages 20 to 50.”

Discriminatory process previously identified. This is not the first time the allegedly discriminatory process at Facebook has surfaced. The complaint points to an investigation by ProPublica, which found that Facebook’s platform made it possible for African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans to be excluded from receiving ads for various economic opportunities, including housing and employment advertisements.

Despite what the complaint asserts was the widely known fact that its platform could be used to exclude individuals with other protected characteristics, such as age, from receiving employment ads, Facebook continues to profit from purportedly unlawful employment discrimination by helping employers and employment agencies exclude older workers from receiving job ads and information.

Relief requested. The complaint, among other things, asks the Court to declare that the practice of excluding older workers from receiving job ads on Facebook violates laws that prohibit age discrimination in employment; issue an injunction to stop T-Mobile, Amazon, Cox, and all other large employers and employment agencies from continuing to engage in acts that violate antidiscrimination laws; require the defendants to compensate older workers who have been denied job opportunities; and award punitive damages.

“In decades as a civil rights lawyer, I have never seen job ads like these that expressly target young workers and exclude older workers,” Lopez said in a statement.

The case, Communication Workers of America v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., is No. 5:17-cv-07232.

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