Amazon, T-Mobile Sued for Allegedly Using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers From Job Ads

Facebook logos - smartphone - Getty-H 2017
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Facebook job ads that target younger workers violate employment discrimination laws, according to a class action complaint filed Wednesday in California federal court. 

Communications Workers of America is suing T-Mobile, Amazon and Cox Media Group for allegedly excluding older workers from employment and recruiting ads on the social media site. 

"These companies eliminate older workers from receiving job ads by specifically targeting their employment ads to younger workers via Facebook’s ad platform," writes attorney Jahan Sagafi in the complaint. 

Facebook requires the advertiser to select the age of the users who will see the ad, CWA claims. It also claims the company encourages advertisers to narrow the range to make the ads more effective. T-Mobile's ads were targeted toward people age 18-38, for example.

"Because the default age setting is 18 to 65+, any employer or employment agency that selects a narrower and younger age range (such as ages 18 to 40) is consciously and purposefully choosing to target younger prospective applicants and thereby excluding older applicants who will not receive the ad," writes Sagafi

According to the complaint, companies can use Facebook's ad tools to further weed out candidates based on demographics, interests and behaviors. CWA suggests targeting people who like the San Franciso Giants may be innocuous, but looking for candidates who are interested in the "Confederate States of America" suggests something darker.

The social media site also gives ad buyers the option to target workers "whose activities strongly suggest they are young and hip" or people "who have expressed an interest in or like pages related to Millennials."

CWA, an international labor union representing more than 700,000 workers across a variety of industries, claims this practice violates federal law that prohibits age discrimination in employment advertising, recruiting and hiring. 

"For employers and employment agencies that want to exclude older workers, Facebook’s ad platform is a blessing," writes Sagafi. "Twenty years ago, an employer would have had to go to great lengths — at a great cost — to determine the age of all potential applicants so that the employer could exclude older workers from its advertising and recruitment."

The suit seeks damages for economic harm, a declaration that the practice violates age discrimination laws and an injunction that bars defendants from continuing to engage in the acts.

The proposed class is defined as: "All Facebook users in the United States who are 40 years old or older who were interested in receiving employment-related advertisements or recruiting from employers or employment agencies via Facebook’s ad platform and were excluded from being eligible to receive an employment-related advertisement because one or more of the Defendant Class Members placed an upper age limit on the population of Facebook users that was eligible to receive an advertisement, at any time from the earliest date actionable under the limitations period applicable to the given claim, until the date of judgment in this action."

Facebook isn't a named defendant in the lawsuit, but it is accused of the same exclusion as the other companies. The suit also seeks to define a class of defendants composed of employers or employment agencies that employ, or refer for employment, 2,500 or more people each year and have sent job ads on Facebook that included an upper age limit. 

An Amazon representative sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement Thursday: "We have a longstanding practice of not commenting on pending litigation. However, we recently audited our recruiting ads on Facebook and discovered some had targeting that was inconsistent with our approach of searching for any candidate over the age of 18. We have corrected those ads."

Facebook issued a statement Wednesday in response to ProPublica's coverage of the age-based targeting for employment ads, not in response to this specific lawsuit itself. 

"U.S. law forbids discrimination in employment based on age, race, gender and other legally protected characteristics," says Rob Goldman, Facebook's VP of Ads. "That said, simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google may not in itself be discriminatory — just as it can be OK to run employment ads in magazines and on TV shows targeted at younger or older people. What matters is that marketing is broadly based and inclusive, not simply focused on a particular age group."

T-Mobile declined to comment on the complaint, which is posted below.