A group of job seekers, backed by the Communications Workers of America and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday against Facebook and nine employers who they say used the social media site’s demographic targeting features to discriminate against female candidates in job ads, the New York Times reports:
The employers appear to have used Facebook’s targeting technology to exclude women from the users who received their advertisements, which highlighted openings for jobs like truck driver and window installer. The charges were filed on behalf of any women who searched for a job on Facebook during roughly the past year. …
The lawyers involved in the case said they discovered the targeting by supervising a group of workers who performed job searches through their Facebook accounts and clicked on a variety of employment ads. For each ad, the job seekers opened a standard Facebook disclosure explaining why they received it. The disclosure for the problematic ads said the users received them because they were men, often between a certain age and in a certain location.
LinkedIn’s latest round of updates to its job posting tool includes features designed to help smaller organizations without dedicated recruiting functions to more easily source and track qualified candidates, Monica Lewis, Head of Product at Linkedin Jobs, announced on the professional networking platform’s Talent Blog last week:
Now, when you post a job on LinkedIn, these new features will work to deliver a pool of relevant candidates who you can’t find anywhere else. … Once you’ve posted a job on LinkedIn, Recommended Matches will scour our network to find candidates who have the experience and skills you’re looking for. And, most of these candidates are exclusively on LinkedIn: 57% of our users in the US did not visit the top three job boards last month.
We put these potential candidates right in front of you, giving you access to their full profiles. In one click, you can indicate if you’re interested in a candidate and start a conversation with them about the job opportunity. Based on how you rate candidates, our algorithm learns your preferences and delivers increasingly relevant candidates.
LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, has also reconfigured its matching algorithm and given organizations the ability to add their own targeting preferences, giving them more control over who sees a job post. The update also makes it easier for users to keep track of candidates they are considering or wish to contact.
The new features are deliberately designed to encourage smaller and medium-sized enterprises to use LinkedIn as a job board. ERE’s Joel Cheesman calls this “a smart move at the right time”:
Last December, an investigative report by ProPublica and the New York Times, along with a lawsuit filed the same day by the Communications Workers of America, alleged that dozens of companies were discriminating against older job candidates by targeting their job ads on Facebook to users within specific age demographics, in what the plaintiffs in the suit say is a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The companies mentioned in the report included Verizon, UPS, and State Farm, while the lawsuit initially named Amazon, T-Mobile, and Cox Media Group specifically, along with “hundreds of other large employers and employment agencies,” identified in the lawsuit as a defendant class.
In an amended complaint filed last week, the union named other individual companies it said were engaging in this allegedly discriminatory practice, including Capital One, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Ikea, and Facebook itself, along with several others. These companies are not named defendants in the suit, but are given as examples of large employers that have advertised jobs on Facebook and specified that these ads only be shown to users within a certain age range. The CWA also filed a complaint against Facebook with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January, and says it has filed similar complaints against dozens of employers, Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson reported on Tuesday.
Facebook and other companies have defended the practice of age-targeting social media ads, comparing it to running an ad in a magazine targeted toward younger or older people. Critics, however, reject this comparison, arguing that a person over the age of 45 can buy a copy of Teen Vogue if they wish, but cannot see a Facebook ad targeted specifically to users younger than them.
Dozens of companies, including a number of household names, have been engaging in potentially discriminatory hiring practices by targeting their job listings on Facebook to users in specific age groups, according to a joint investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times published on Wednesday. The report, along with a new lawsuit challenging the legality of this type of targeting, is sure to reignite the public debate over age discrimination in hiring and may put more pressure on employers in that regard.
Reviewing data collected as part of a separate investigation into political advertising on Facebook, ProPublica reporters Julia Angwin and Ariana Tobin and the Times‘ Noam Scheiber noticed that Verizon, for example, had bought Facebook job ads targeted to users 25 to 36 years old, while UPS ran an ad targeting ages 18 to 24 and State Farm was advertising to Facebook users from 19 to 35 years old. While the ability to reach very specific audiences is one of Facebook’s main differentiators in the advertising market, these findings are raising questions as to whether targeting candidates by parameters such as age could be considered discriminatory under US law.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it illegal to exhibit bias against people over 40 years old and to even be an accomplice to age discrimination, which may be the case for Facebook in these circumstances. Also on Wednesday, the Communications Workers of America filed a class-action complaint in a federal court in San Francisco on behalf of its members and all other Facebook users over 40 who did not get the opportunity to view these job listings, with the CWA’s attorney calling it “illegal and immoral to exclude older workers from receiving a company’s job ads.” Whether the court accepts this lawsuit remains to be seen, but it won’t be the only one.
When confronted with the possibly discriminatory nature of placing such ads, some companies have chosen to make changes to their job marketing strategy. Others, however, defend the practice, arguing that it is similar to placing ads in print publications that reach different age demographics, such as the AARP magazine or Teen Vogue. Some believe it is appropriate to target by age if the ad is for an entry-level job, or insist that these Facebook ads are part of a comprehensive strategy for recruiting candidates of all ages.