Several women and the Communications Workers of America have brought an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against Facebook and 10 employers who advertise on the social network, alleging that the companies are in violation of laws prohibiting sex-based job discrimination.
By allowing employers to target job ads based on gender and seek only men for certain positions, the claimants allege, Facebook is running afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting a Pittsburgh law that banned classified job ads seeking only men or women.
Facebook and other social media companies have been the target of similar suits before, including civil rights suits about job discrimination over age and discrimination against protected classes in housing ads. Their first line of defense is generally Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which grants immunity to Internet service providers (ISPs) from liability attached to content provided by users of their services. However, the more involved that ISPs are in moderating that content, the more they might be held liable. Social media companies have been taking an increasingly active role in monitoring and removing content from their sites in the wake of claims that they are not doing enough to prevent the spread of “fake news” and offensive content.
The claimants in the EEOC complaint allege that Section 230 does not protect Facebook because the company designed and operates the job advertising system, provides mechanisms for employers to target ads to certain demographics, and is in essence a recruiter, not simply a passive, neutral service provider.
Takeaway: Advertisers should take heed that even if an Internet service allows you to select which audiences will view your ads, there may be underlying laws that regulate discrimination regarding who can be targeted.