Do Facebook Job Ads Encourage Bias?

Facebook is no stranger to controversy. While allegations about the company’s data-protection policies have made international headlines, this time, Facebook job ads–and the companies that use them–are under fire by critics who say they’re fueling discrimination against older job applicants.

The social media giant was recently added to a class-action federal lawsuit that was originally filed in December by three former telecommunications workers and the Communications Workers of America, which represents 700,000 media workers. The case, Bradley v. T-Mobile, initially contended the named defendant, along with Amazon, Ikea and hundreds of other companies, violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by setting their Facebook jobs ads to only be visible to those of certain age groups–in this case, younger users.

The new filing extends that charge to Facebook: An ad submitted with the filing shows a post from the Facebook Careers page promoting a career fair for company recruiters that is set to only reach users ages 21 to 55. Another ad included as evidence is for night-shift work at an Amazon location near Silver Spring, Md., which was set to only reach candidates from ages 18 to 54.

“In decades as a civil rights lawyer, I have never seen job ads like these that expressly target young workers and exclude older workers,” said David Lopez of Outten & Golden, which is representing the plaintiffs, at the onset of the case. “The law requires equal opportunity in advertising, recruiting and hiring.”

When the initial suit was filed, Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president of advertising, wrote on the site that “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.”

The amendments to the lawsuit came just days before the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the ADEA. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission marked the milestone last month with a report analyzing the state of age discrimination in American workplaces, with the authors noting the difficulty in fully assessing the topic, as it often goes unreported. Looking at charges filed with its own agency, however, unlawful discharge was the top age-discrimination claim, though the report also notes that studies have found “substantial evidence of age discrimination in hiring.”

For instance, a study cited in the report from 2015 that involved more than 40,000 job applicants found rampant age discrimination, with applicants age 64-66 more frequently denied interviews than middle-aged candidates, a trend more significant among women.

“While attitudes about older workers, their abilities and age discrimination have improved somewhat over the past 50 years, much more can and should be done to make age discrimination less prevalent and less accepted,” the report’s authors concluded.

To that end, the plaintiffs are seeking a ruling that prohibits the plaintiffs from screening out older applicants in Facebook ads. They are also requesting unspecified damages for all Facebook users over 40.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at