Dozens of the nation’s leading employers have been found to have placed recruitment ads on Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) that were limited to particular age groups. An investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times uncovered the use of age targets in Facebook’s employment ads from data originally compiled by ProPublica readers for a project about political ad placement on Facebook. The practice has raised concerns about fairness to older workers.
When Verizon placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a financial planning position recently, it targeted the post to Facebook users 25 to 36 years old who had links to the nation’s capital and had an interest in finance. United Parcel Service ran an ad for part-time package handlers aimed at people 18 to 24. Facebook ran career ads on its platform aimed at people 25 to 60. State Farm limited its hiring promotion to those between the ages of 19 and 35.
Some are saying that the practice violates the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits bias against people 40 or older in hiring or employment. However, that Act allows an employer to take into account “reasonable factors” that may be highly correlated with age or other protected characteristics.
Facebook’s size, at two billion monthly active users, provides recruiters with access to types of workers that are hard to find elsewhere. Some companies defended the targeting as a part of a broader recruitment strategy. Several companies found to be using targeted employment ads now say they have changed or are changing their recruiting strategies.
Age discrimination on digital platforms is something that many suspect, but is difficult to prove. Rob Goldman, a Facebook vice president said, “We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory.” He continued on to say, “Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work.”
The practice has begun to attract legal challenges. The Communications Workers of America and its members have filed a class-action complaint against Facebook alleging age discrimination in federal court in San Francisco. The lawsuit argues that the company is essentially an employment agency because of the way it collects and provides data to help employers locate candidates.
Legal experts say it is unclear how much liability tech platforms could have in this matter. Facebook has argued in court filings that the 1996 Communications Decency Act renders it immune from liability for discriminatory ads. Facebook said earlier this year that it would require advertisers to “self-certify” that their housing, employment and credit ads were compliant with anti-discrimination laws.