Women Say Facebook Allows Illegal Bias in Job Ads

(CN) – Prospective job-seekers filed gender discrimination charges against Facebook and 10 other employers Tuesday, claiming the companies target their help wanted ads to male Facebook users and effectively shun women and nonbinary users from opportunities.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Communications Workers of America and the law firm Outten & Golden filed charges with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a class of millions of women who couldn’t access job ads in male-dominated fields.

The employers named in the complaint hire mechanics, truck drivers, police department employees, airport personnel and construction workers.

Facebook requires users to identify their gender – and offers “gender fluid” and “neutral” options – in order to have an account.

For their part, advertisers decide whether they want their ads to be seen by “All,” “Male” or “Female” Facebook users. Facebook then helps the employer create the ad and disseminates it to targeted users based on specific demographic data it has collected on its users.

The job-seekers say Facebook delivers job ads “selectively based on age and sex categories that employers expressly choose, and that Facebook earns revenue from placing job ads that exclude women and older workers,” according to the ACLU’s statement on the complaint.

“The internet did not erase our civil rights laws.  It violates the law if an employer uses Facebook to deny job ads to women,” said attorney Peter Romer-Friedman of Outten & Golden. “The last time I checked, you don’t have to be a man to be a truck driver or a police officer. But Facebook and employers are acting like it’s the 1950s, before federal employment law banned sex discrimination.”

Job-seekers say Facebook can’t claim it is simply an intermediary in the job market because it acts more like an employment agency and marketing firm.

“The effect of this discriminatory sex-based targeting of employment ads is profound and only increasing as the world becomes more connected through social media,” the workers say, adding Facebook has become a major player in the online job recruitment realm.

Facebook’s targeted-advertising algorithms have also taken heat from fair-housing advocates who filed a federal complaint this past March over what they describe as “virtual redlining.”

Targeting job ads by gender is unlawful under federal, state, and local civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a statement the Menlo Park-based company is reviewing the complaint and looks forward to defending itself.

“There is no place for discrimination at Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies and over the past year we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse,” Osborne said.

Facebook has said it carefully reviews ad-targeting tools to ensure they follow antidiscrimination guidelines.

In August, the social media giant said it was removing more than 5,000 options that let advertisers exclude audiences based on ethnicity or religion.

Pennsylvania resident Bobbi Spees, 36, a job-seeker and lead complainant in the case, said in a statement she was shocked to find ongoing gender discrimination as she searched job ads on Facebook.

“I’ve heard stories about when people looked for jobs in the classified ads and big bold letters read ‘help wanted-male’ or ‘help wanted-female.’” Spees said. “I shouldn’t be shut out of the chance to hear about a job opportunity just because I am a woman.”

Linda Bradley of Ohio and Chicago resident Renia Hudson are two other complainants in the case.


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