Do Targeted Job Ads Violate Age Discrimination Laws?

Do Targeted Job Ads Violate Age Discrimination Laws?

Employment discrimination often starts with the advertisements employers use to attract potential employees. For example, if a company posts help wanted ad seeking “young” applicants for a position, that would probably constitute illegal age discrimination. State and federal laws expressly protect workers ages 40 and older from discrimination in hiring, thus any job advertisement that discourages such persons from applying would likely be illegal.

Media, Facebook Face-Off Over “Microtargeting”

Of course, it is easy enough for companies to avoid posting blatantly discriminatory job advertisements. What if an employer engages in a more subtle form of age discrimination? Recently, ProPublica and the New York Times published a major expose on how one of the country's leading social media platforms–Facebook–has become a popular tool for posting potentially discriminatory ads.

Everyone knows about Facebook. The online platform boasts more than 2 billion active users worldwide. For many people, Facebook is the Internet. It serves as their principal source of news, communication, and even a source for potential employment.

Facebook depends on advertising dollars. Unlike the traditional newspaper want ad or even a Craigslist post that reaches every reader of the publication, Facebook's revenue model relies on “microtargeting” advertisements towards specific groups of users. According to ProPublica and the Times, this targeting enables employers to specifically micro-target employment ads at Facebook users under 40, effectively doing an end-run around age discrimination laws.

ProPublica cited the case of one large employer who “placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a unit focused on financial planning and analysis.” This ad was “set to run on the Facebook feeds of users 25 to 36 years old,” meaning users older than 36 would not see the ad at all.

Responding to ProPublica, Facebook said in a statement that it “completely reject[s] the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory.” The company insisted that “Simply showing certain job ads to different age groups…may not in itself be discriminatory,” and that “[u]sed responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice.”

Yet despite Facebook's defiant stand, other major internet companies have started to rethink their own targeted advertising strategies. ProPublica said retail giant Amazon “corrected” a recruiting ad previously published on Facebook that targeted workers under the age of 50. LinkedIn, a professional networking site, said that it will now prevent employers from targeting ads by age ranges “unless they affirm the ad is not discriminatory.”

Have You Been the Victim of Age Discrimination? We can Help

It should be noted that at least one class action has already been filed in California, accusing a number of employers and targeted advertising platforms of illegal age discrimination. This case is in its early stages, and it is far from clear whether platforms like Facebook can be held liable under federal anti-discrimination laws for job ads posted by third parties.

Employers, however, are unquestionably responsible for their own discriminatory actions. If you suspect you have been the victim of age discrimination in the hiring process, you should speak with a qualified New York employment attorney right away. Call the law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar at 646.760.6493 today if you need to speak with a lawyer today.

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