Women truck drivers file complaint against Meta for algorithmic discrimination against women and older workers when delivering job ads on Facebook
December 1, 2022—Today, Real Women in Trucking, a non-profit that advocates for women truck drivers, filed a class action charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Meta Platforms, alleging that Meta routinely discriminates against women and older people when deciding which users receive employers’ job ads on Facebook. The group also alleges that Meta is still allowing employers to exclude all older workers from being eligible to receive their job ads, a practice Meta agreed to end as part of a 2019 civil right settlement. As the charge explains, these practices violate federal, state, and local civil rights laws that make it unlawful to advertise jobs in a discriminatory way, including by steering ads away from people based on their gender or age.
Real Women in Trucking is represented by Gupta Wessler PLLC, a public interest law firm, and Upturn, a non-profit that advances equity and justice in the design, governance, and use of technology, and that has previously published research on Facebook’s algorithmic bias.
The 44-page charge offers the EEOC compelling evidence—based on Meta’s own data about numerous job ads published by employers on Facebook—that Meta has engaged in discriminatory job advertising that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and analogous state and local laws. The charge demonstrates how Meta’s “ad-delivery algorithm”—which decides which eligible users will receive an ad—routinely disfavors workers who are 55 and older. The algorithm also routinely shows job ads to over 90% men when Meta associates the job with men (or 90%-plus women when Meta associates the job with women). In some cases, although employers directed Facebook to send their job ads to people of all genders and ages, Meta delivered the ads to users who are over 99% male or 99% younger than 55 years old—despite the fact that women are 54% of the Facebook users who are interested in job hunting and people 55 and older are over 28% of the same group of users.With 239 million American users, Facebook is a common place for employers to advertise job opportunities. Each day, over 30,000 different ads for jobs are published to millions of Facebook users across the United States. But for years, Facebook has come under fire for engaging in discrimination in this area. In fact, in 2019 the EEOC—the federal agency that enforces federal employment discrimination laws—announced that it violates Title VII and the ADEA to rely on a person’s gender or age to limit their chance of receiving a job ad on Facebook.
In 2019, as part of a historic settlement with civil rights and labor groups, Facebook agreed to prohibit advertisers from relying on users’ race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics to exclude them from receiving job, housing, or credit ads. At the time of the accord, advocates and academics cautioned that even if employers could no longer exclude all women or older people from receiving their job ads, Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm could replicate the same problem by showing certain job ads to nearly all men or younger people. Facebook acknowledged and agreed to study this problem, but did not commit to take any action to prevent such algorithmic bias.Real Women in Trucking’s charge confirms that advocates were justified in worrying that Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm would replicate the problem of gender and age bias by steering job ads away from older people and towards the gender traditionally associated with each job.The charge provides the following examples of algorithmic bias in ad delivery:
- A truck driver job ad that was shown to only 6% women and 11% people 55 and older, even though women are 54% of all users interested in job hunting and older people are 28% of all users interested in job hunting
- A mechanic job ad shown to only 1% women and 9% people 55+
- A landscaping job ad shown to only 3% women and 4% people 55+
- A roof installer job ad shown to only 1% women and 3% people 55+
- A painter job ad shown to only 6% women and 5% people 55+
- An HVAC technician job ad shown to only 3% women and 2% people 55+
- An entry-level firefighter job ad shown to only 14% women and 10% people 55+
- An administrative assistant job ad shown to only 2% men and 6% people 55+
- A housekeeping/food service job ad shown to only 17% men and 13% people 55+
- A non-profit advocacy assistant job ad shown to only 11% men and 6% people 55+
- A homecare aide job ad shown to only 6% men and 1% people 55+
- A medical technician job ad shown to only 7% men and 9% people 55+
The charge also shows that Meta has continued a practice it agreed to eliminate in the 2019 settlement: publishing job ads where everyone above a certain age is excluded from receiving the ad. It offers two examples of job ads published on Facebook in September 2022 only to people under 55 years old, and a third job ad published the same month only to people under 65.In the 2019 settlement, Facebook agreed to deploy a machine learning algorithm to identify all employment ads and then block any employment ads where the employer tried to limit the ad’s audience based on age or gender. The job ads Meta published this fall excluding all people above 54- or 64-years-old call into question whether Facebook has effectively implemented the 2019 settlement and suggest that Facebook may still routinely publish job, housing, and credit ads that are entirely denied to older people and women. Those job ads (shown at pages 38-39 of the charge) contain phases commonly associated with hiring, such as “please apply”, “hiring,” “now hiring” “job,” “careers,” and “job us,” such that Meta should have easily identified those ads as employment ads.Real Women in Trucking’s charge explains how Meta’s practices violate federal, state, and local prohibitions on discrimination in advertising jobs and hiring, and asks the EEOC to fully investigate Facebook’s practices and declare them unlawful. Filing a charge with the EEOC is required before any party can file a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit under Title VII or the ADEA. In some cases, the EEOC will decide to file a lawsuit in response to a charge, and in other cases the EEOC provides the charging party with a “right to sue letter” that gives them the right to file a lawsuit in court.
Desiree Wood, the founder and president of Real Women in Trucking, who has driven a truck for more than 15 years, said “Facebook is commonly used by truckers to find out about job opportunities. When job ads are hidden from qualified women and older people, it puts them at a greater disadvantage to find a suitable job. This is a real problem for women and older truckers, who already face significant levels of bias in getting hired. It’s also a problem for trucking companies that want to increase their diversity. Many trucking companies want to encourage women to apply for truck driving and warehousing positions. But Facebook’s algorithmic discrimination is preventing companies from reaching qualified women, as well as older people.”
Peter Romer-Friedman, a principal of Gupta Wessler PLLC and one of the civil rights lawyers who filed several legal actions that led to the 2019 settlement with Facebook, said, “Our investigation uncovered extreme levels of bias in Facebook’s system that decides which people receive job ads on Facebook, including job ads that Facebook showed to 99% men even though advertisers wanted to reach people of all genders. Facebook’s algorithmic bias is perpetuating outdated stereotypes about what jobs are for men versus women and how older people are not suitable for employment. In 2019 the EEOC declared that it’s illegal to steer digital ads away from workers because of their gender or age, and for the past three years Facebook has been doing just that in violation of federal law.”
Mitra Ebadolahi, the Senior Project Director for Economic Justice at Upturn, said, “These days, people rely on social media platforms to learn about essential life opportunities, including jobs. Algorithmic discrimination in the delivery of job ads severely disadvantages women and older workers, in violation of civil rights laws. A person’s gender or age should never limit their opportunity to hear about a job on Facebook or any other digital platform.”
Harlan Yu, the Executive Director of Upturn, said, “Facebook’s own actions continue to cause discriminatory outcomes, despite the changes and promises they’ve made over the years. We need a full public accounting for why these problems continue to occur, and why Facebook appears incapable of fully addressing these harms.”
Real Women in Trucking is a non-profit group formed by seasoned female commercial-motor-vehicle drivers who saw the need for authentic representation for women in the trucking industry. It is a member-based organization that includes both seasoned female drivers and entry-level candidates. The organization encourages ethical corporate business practices and improved industry standards, especially the practice of treating people of all genders equally when it comes to hiring, training, paying, and promoting motor vehicle drivers. Women truck drivers are at a particular risk of discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, and assault.
Gupta Wessler PLLC is a national appellate, constitutional, and complex litigation boutique. We litigate high-stakes cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and courts across the country, including in the areas of civil rights and consumer protection. Through all of our efforts, we aim to help shape the law in ways that enhance justice and improve people’s lives. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, Boston, and San Francisco.
Upturn is a non-profit organization that advocates equity and justice in the design, governance, and use of technology. We drive policy change by investigating specific ways that technology and automation shape people’s opportunities, particularly in marginalized communities. Without focused attention, technology can reinforce racial, economic, and social injustices found everywhere in our society. At the same time, discussions about technology often present new opportunities to change the status quo and reimagine what’s possible. Through research and advocacy, we seek transformative social change across a broad range of issues.