Even in a red-hot labor market, it can still be tough for some job seekers to find work.
Companies like Facebook FB, +1.72% aren’t making it any easier—in fact, says a complaint filed with the federal government Tuesday, the social media giant and 10 other companies are actually going out of their way to make it tougher.
The complaint—filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by the American Civil Liberties Union, the law firm Outten & Golden and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a labor union, —says Facebook practices sex discrimination against women and older workers, by allowing advertisers to target job openings only to men. The complaint was filed on behalf of three individuals, part of a proposed class of millions of Facebook’s female users, as well as on behalf of CWA and its workers.
Read: ACLU says Facebook lets companies discriminate against women and older workers
“The first question that employers ask when creating a new advertisement on Facebook is whether they want to target the ad to all users or just to male users or female users only,” Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, tells MarketWatch. “So in the context of job advertisements, it has long been established that this violates federal law.”
It’s not the first time that Facebook has landed in hot water for the way in which its advertising platform has been used by employers. Two years ago, ProPublica reported that Facebook’s advertisers could exclude minorities from housing ads—a problem that has not been fixed a year later.
It also claimed in 2017 that some of Facebook’s ad tools were anti-Semitic, and enabled advertisers to reach “Jew haters.” Meanwhile, the CWA has complained that Facebook was enabling age discrimination in job ads.
Obviously, labor discrimination for reasons of gender or age is forbidden by U.S. law.
Assuming you have a Facebook account—the company claims to have more than 200 million U.S. users—you have inadvertently enabled this alleged discrimination. When you first opened your account, the site forced you to state your gender (remember?)—thus allowing Facebook and its clients to exclude you from openings that were targeted to others.
“They created the job advertising and targeting tool, so they have known since its creation that they are allowing this to take place,” Sherwin says. “It’s astounding that there hasn’t been action to stamp it out.”
For older workers, Tuesday’s complaint is just another reminder, albeit a high-profile one, that the job market is often rigged against them. On its blog, the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) cited a study in which researchers sent over 40,000 résumés to apply for more than 13,000 job openings posted online in 12 cities. To test for age discrimination, they responded to each ad with three résumés—showing the same skills—from young, middle-aged and older workers. By a wide margin, older candidates received fewer callbacks. It’s no wonder that in 2016 alone, 20,857 age discrimination complaints were filed with the EEOC.
“Age discrimination is alive and well, no question about it,” says Renee Ward of Jobs4Seniors, a California-based job counseling firm. “Hiring managers just aren’t interested in the 50-plus crowd.”
Perhaps, but growing labor shortages across swaths of the U.S. economy seem to be changing that. For example, Labor Department data show a key metric—the labor-force participation Rate—actually rising for older Americans.
The reasons may vary. Some people enjoy working and feel a desire to contribute, while others, who never recovered from the devastating economic downturn of a decade ago, work out of sheer necessity.
Responding to Tuesday’s complaint, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a statement that “There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies. We look forward to defending our practices once we have an opportunity to review the complaint.”
Even so, Facebook’s vice president for advertising, Rob Goldman, appeared to play down the complaint in a blog post, comparing advertiser use of its platform to that of advertisers who pay to target certain demographic groups on TV shows.
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“Simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google GOOG, +0.85% may not in itself be discriminatory,” he writes, “just as it can be OK to run employment ads in magazines and on TV shows targeted at younger or older people.”