A class action lawsuit was recently filed in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of the Communications Workers of America and its members, as well as any and all Facebook users who are 40 years of age or older. The defendants? A long list of employers and employment agencies, including recognizable names such as Amazon.com and T-Mobile. All are accused of practicing age discrimination by targeting their Facebook employment ads to specific age group, effectively preventing older workers from seeing them.

The suit brings to light an issue of growing concern regarding age discrimination employment practices: Facebook has become an increasingly popular place for companies to recruit for open positions, and that’s partly because advertisers can target specific characteristics of its users that they want to reach, to the exclusion of others. It’s the same thing that has made Facebook’s ads so attractive to retail advertisers, and which played such a large role in 2016’s political environment: they can indicate that they want to reach people who are liberal or conservative, dog or cat owners, country music lovers or knitters. Because Facebook gathers so much information about its users, merchants can pinpoint the people who are most likely to buy their goods. But using that same information for hiring can mean that Facebook users in groups that companies don’t want to reach are robbed of their ability to see jobs that they might want to apply for.

Some people defend the practice of placing age-restricted ads on Facebook, pointing out that recruitment advertisers have always been able to target particular audiences by running ads in specialty publications or media. But running an ad in a youth-oriented magazine does not prevent an older person from picking it up, seeing the ad, and responding to it. Facebook’s age-targeted ads preclude others outside of the specified group from seeing them, and that is a violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Beyond holding the advertisers themselves responsible, there is also a question as to whether Facebook can also be held responsible for “aiding or abetting” the placement of discriminatory ads.

In response to the lawsuits and complaints, some companies have already changed their recruitment ad strategy to stop targeting specific age groups. LinkedIn, the leading online recruitment platform, has included a step to their ad placement process that specifically prevents companies from using age ranges when placing an ad unless they confirm that the ad isn’t discriminatory. Whether Facebook follows their lead with recruitment ads remains to be seen.

If you believe you have been a victim of any kind of employment discrimination, we can help. Contact us today to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.