It’s not getting as much attention as sexual harassment in the workplace, but on top of its woes with sexism, the tech industry has a serious problem with ageism. According to a ProPublica investigative report, dozens of major companies, including Facebook, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Target, and Verizon, have used Facebook’s ad controls to limit their job postings visibility to candidates under 40 — or even under thirty, in the case of UPS. That means that experienced older employees might be allowed to apply, but never even know if a job is on the market.
Now there’s debate over whether that violates the 1968 Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The Communications Workers of America have now filed a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco that seeks to prove age discrimination. San Francisco employment lawyer Cliff Palefsky, who isn’t part of the CWA suit, said it’s his opinion you don’t even need to go as high as the national Employment Act to combat ageism. State and local statues protect against age discrimination, too.
But many of the tech companies engaging in this practice claim that they had no idea their ads were limited by age parameters, or that it doesn’t count as discrimination because there’s nothing preventing older people from actually applying for a job — if they can find out that it’s open. Goldman Sachs spokesman Andrew Williams said of his company’s approach that “For some of our social-media ads, we look to get the content to the people most likely to be interested, but do not exclude anyone from our recruiting activity.”
Facebook is trying to get cases dismissed that accuse its advertising platform not only of ageism but of other civil rights violations. It’s not hard to guess how Facebook’s ad controls could be used to weed out other characteristics like race or gender or religion. But they say that because they offer those controls doesn’t mean they’re liable for whether users switch them on or off, or what limitations they set. “Advertisers, not Facebook, are responsible for both the content of their ads and what targeting criteria to use, if any,” said the social media giant. It will be up to judges around the country to decide if that’s really the case.