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Facebook Reaches Settlement in Age Discrimination Lawsuits

Company will stop letting employers target ads to younger candidates

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En español | Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from AARP Foundation.

Employers will no longer be able to use Facebook to show job ads only to younger candidates, the company said Tuesday, announcing it has reached a settlement in several discrimination lawsuits based on which advertisements it shows to whom. The agreement is a victory for older workers, who never might have known that technology was being used to discriminate against them.

The social media giant was facing multiple lawsuits alleging that it was permitting advertisers on its website to direct ads only to people who fit certain characteristics, a practice known as “microtargeting.” 

For example, if an employer only wanted to hire candidates under age 40, Facebook would only show that job posting to its members whose profiles showed they were in that age range. Jobseekers ages 40 and older would never know the ad existed. 

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people ages 40 and older from discrimination in employment. 

“As the internet — and platforms like Facebook — play an increasing role in connecting us all to information related to economic opportunities, it’s crucial that microtargeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the groups involved in the lawsuits. “We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”

Facebook said it will build a new section on its site for companies that want to advertise for jobs, housing and credit. In this section, companies will be prohibited from targeting ads by age, race, gender or any other legally protected characteristic. Facebook also agreed to permit the ACLU to monitor the site for three years to make sure that it fully implements the changes in the settlement. The investigative journalism website ProPublica, which was instrumental in revealing Facebook’s advertising practices, is reporting that the tech company also will pay the plaintiffs $5 million, which largely will be used to pay legal fees.

“Today’s changes mark an important step in our broader effort to prevent discrimination and promote fairness and inclusion on Facebook,” Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s CEO, said about the settlement. “But our work is far from over. We’re committed to doing more, and we look forward to engaging in serious consultation and work with key civil rights groups, experts and policymakers to help us find the right path forward.”

Last September, the ACLU and the civil rights law firm Outten & Golden, representing the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and several individual job seekers, filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Facebook and a number of employers, alleging they had unlawfully discriminated based on age. 

“This settlement takes away digital tools that advertisers can use to deny equal opportunity,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney at Outten & Golden. “We will continue our efforts to hold employers accountable for using Facebook’s platform to discriminate.”

“All workers deserve a fair chance to get a good job,” said Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer of CWA.

“Ending unlawful ad targeting is critical to ensuring equal opportunity in the digital age,” says William Rivera, senior vice president of AARP Foundation Litigation. “AARP and AARP Foundation will continue to oppose recruiting, hiring, and other practices that discriminate against older adults.”

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