EEOC Finds Job Ads on Facebook Discriminated Against Women and Older Workers

By Douglas Lipsky

Discriminating against potential job candidates on the basis of gender and age has long been prohibited by a number of state and federal laws. Now, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has held that job ads posted on Facebook by at least seven companies illegally discriminated against women and elderly workers. If you have experienced employment discrimination during any stage of the hiring process, it is crucial to know your rights.

The Backdrop

The EEOC’s landmark ruling specifically involved complaints against seven companies; dozens of other claims are still pending. Facebook users filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC in 2018 claiming that the employers posted job ads on the social media network that could only be seen by men and younger workers.

While the businesses argued that it’s permissible to target certain demographic groups, as long as protected groups are not excluded, the EEOC found that the job ads violated the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The complaint was centered on Facebook’s business model that lets advertisers micro-target users based on demographic information such as interests and age. 

In the complaint, attorneys presented evidence of job ads posted on Facebook between October 2017 and August 2018 which showed how Facebook’s ad-building tool allowed employers to exclude women from accessing the job posts. 

Older workers have also accused Facebook and other companies of discriminating against employees in their 50s and 60s in a class-action lawsuit filed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a labor union. Facebook has also been sued previously by worker advocates for accepting ads that discriminate against consumers based on their religion, race, and gender. 

Facebook has denied that these kinds of ads are a form of unlawful discrimination and claimed that it is not legally responsible when other companies buy ads that violate the law. Before the EEOC ruling was handed down, however, Facebook said that businesses will no longer be permitted to buy targeted ads that potentially discriminate against women, minorities and older workers. This represents a significant shift in the social media giant’s business model.

The Takeaway

Generally, ad campaigns related to housing, real estate, financial services and job opportunities cannot exclude certain protected classes, and the EEOC ruling indicates that targeting digital job ads based on gender and age is illegal. The question remains as to whether any of the individuals involved in the complaints have a legal basis to recover damages. In the meantime, the best way to protect your employment rights is by working with an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.