The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a decision Wednesday stating that it found reasonable cause to believe seven U.S. companies violated federal law by using Facebook’s ad targeting capabilities to exclude women and older users from seeing job ads on the social network.
In September 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) teamed up with Communications Workers of America (CWA) and workers’ rights law firm Outten & Golden to file charges with the EEOC initially against Facebook and 10 other companies that advertised jobs via its platform, alleging unlawful discrimination and use of the social network’s targeting option to deliver job ads to male users only.
The EEOC reached a settlement with Facebook in March.
Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, wrote in a statement, “These rulings have far-reaching consequences. Today’s job-seekers increasingly use online platforms rather than traditional help-wanted ads to find jobs, and more and more employers use social media and other digital tools to advertise to and recruit workers. This ruling sends a message that employers don’t get a pass to avoid anti-discrimination laws simply by posting their ads online.”
Seven companies were addressed in Wednesday’s EEOC decision, in which the EEOC said it found “reasonable cause” to believe that those companies violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by limiting the audience of their employment ads to male and younger potential applicants.
The EEOC said it invites the seven parties to attempt to settle the charges.
CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens wrote in the statement, “All workers deserve a fair chance to get a good job. The EEOC’s rulings should send employers a strong message that they can’t unfairly lock workers out of opportunities based on their gender or age. CWA will continue to fight to hold employers accountable for unjust discrimination.”
As part of its settlement with the EEOC, Facebook began addressing the unlawful use of its ad targeting options March, updating its policies to no longer allow age, gender and ZIP code targeting in ads for housing, employment and credit.
The social network also said at the time that it was creating a portal for those ads, and ads created elsewhere would be blocked. That portal excludes targeting options related to protected characteristics or classes, such as race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, family status, disability and sexual orientation.
Facebook reiterated in August that ads covering housing, employment or credit required the selection of a special ad category, which began rolling out in Ads Manager in July and was added to the social network’s Marketing API earlier this month.
The company said at the time that all housing, employment and credit ads that do not implement the special ad category flows by Dec. 4 may be paused because of noncompliance.
In Wednesday’s ruling, the EEOC found that home furniture retailer Nebraska Furniture Mart, window replacement and installation company Renewal by Andersen and information technology company Sandhills Publishing violated Title VII and the ADEA by excluding women and older workers from seeing their job ads on Facebook.
And financial giant Capital One, used-car retailer and financing company DriveTime, financial services firm Edward Jones and car-rental company Enterprise Holdings were found to have excluded older users.
Outten & Golden counsel Peter Romer-Friedman wrote in the statement, “This historic decision shows that our civil rights laws apply to digital advertising and recruiting. It underscores that the internet is not a civil-rights-free zone. The EEOC is clearly saying that all workers deserve an equal opportunity to hear about jobs and that employers cannot deny workers job ads based on their age or sex.”