By Jacob Lebowitz
This past summer the unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 Percent, the lowest number since the year 2000. Job opportunities are abundant in the current economy, but the common problems with getting a job for some, namely discrimination, are still prevalent today. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that over 80,000 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the federal agency nationwide during the fiscal year 2017.
At the end of 2017, Communications Workers of America (CWA) brought forth a class action lawsuit against Facebook, T-Mobile, Amazon, and a number of other organizations alleging that the companies have been discriminating against older workers, not in the workplace, but in the targeted ad campaigns seen on Facebook. One of the implicated ads depicted a T-Mobile advertisement looking for candidates in “Customer Care” and specifically aimed to reach “people ages 18 to 38 who live or were recently in the United States” on their Facebook timelines. This ad prevented experienced call center workers, namely the unemployed class-action plaintiffs Lura Callahan and Linda Maxwell, from ever knowing that such job opportunities existed.
A 2016 investigation by the Washington state Attorney General’s office revealed that Facebook gave companies advertising options to target (and exclude) certain demographics based on their race. The Attorney General’s Office was able to create fake ads that specifically excluded these groups. The investigation led Facebook to sign a legally binding agreement in July 2018 to prevent advertisers from excluding and targeting job candidates based on race, gender, and other protected groups from seeing their ads. The agreement was silent on excluding people based on age, however.
The age-old (pun intended) issue of workplace discrimination has somehow found a way to transcend into the ever-evolving medium of social media advertising. Civil rights issues are no longer contained in a brick-and-mortar setting within the physical workplace. The difficult task of proving hiring discrimination becomes more difficult when targeted ad campaigns prevent experienced job candidates from even being aware that a job opportunity exists. Although legal measures have been taken to prevent certain forms of discrimination from happening, further regulating and auditing of online advertisement practices will be an important step in ensuring that qualified candidates have an equal opportunity for employment, regardless of sex, race, gender, and (in this case) age.
Facebook has taken steps to prevent companies from “microtargeting” the job candidates they seek. The measures taken were not a result of complying with the law but being outed for enabling companies to engage in these discriminatory practices. The hope is that lawmakers will push to further regulate targeted online job advertising to give everyone a fair opportunity to interview for a job, whether the candidate is a college graduate or a retired grandmother.
Student Bio: Jacob Lebowitz is a second-year student at Suffolk University Law School. He is currently a member of The Journal of High Technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Union College.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.