A class-action lawsuit filed in Israel against Facebook charges that ads on the social media giant violate the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which prohibits the posting of discriminatory job ads.
Israeli employment law, like that in most Western countries, states that a job advertisement cannot discriminate by age, gender, race, political beliefs or other variables. The law allows for anyone affected by such discrimination to be compensated for NIS 50,000, without proof of damage.
“Years ago that meant that a company couldn’t write explicitly in a job ad that it was only looking for, say, white males aged 25-40,” explained attorney Dr. Matan Gutman, who filed the case at the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court. “But Facebook’s ad system allows companies to discriminate in a more elegant way – by offering the options to target only certain types of people. That would be equivalent to a newspaper offering its clients the option to target only certain readers, which would clearly be prohibited. But Facebook publishes thousands of such job ads in Israel every year.”
In the United States and Canada, civil rights advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have filed similar class-action suits against Facebook in 2018 and 2019, charging that its platform allowed employers to target ads based on categories like race, national origin, age and gender. In both cases, a settlement was reached in which Facebook committed to two policy changes, Gutman said.
First, when users begin setting up a paid ad in Facebook’s Ads Manager, they are prompted to say whether the ad relates to employment or other ‘sensitive’ categories. If answered in the affirmative, the platform will block the user from targeting viewers based on age, gender or race.
Second, the Facebook Ad Library, which allows users to search ads throughout the company’s network, can be filtered by employment, so that such ads can be easily monitored.
These measures were only implemented in the US and Canada, where the suits were filed, and not in other countries with similar laws, Gutman noted, adding that Facebook reportedly also paid penalties of millions of dollars to the advocacy groups that filed the claims.
Gutman and his partner, Adv. Nir Friedman, have filed a similar claim in Israel, but with one difference. Israel’s laws provide for statutory compensation of NIS 50,000 per person affected, a sum that could theoretically reach billions of shekels. The statute of limitations for such violations is seven years, meaning all ads posted since 2014 could be potentially punishable.
But Gutman doesn’t entertain any fantasies that this case would enrich hundreds of thousands of Israelis. “There’s not really a chance that anyone will start getting NIS 50,000 checks from this case,” he said. “But I think the solution that will be reached is clear. Facebook would be forced to deploy the same technology solution here as in the US and Canada, and the company would have to pay a fine that would go to a special fund in the Justice Ministry that collects payments like these, to be allocated to relevant causes.”
That scenario is still a long time away, however.
“We filed this case in the Labor Court in Tel Aviv recently,” said Gutman. “They have 90 days to respond, and then the next steps can start. In short, it will be a lot of time until we finally have an answer to this.”
Regarding the law, Gutman noted that in certain cases, a company could argue that discriminatory statements could be justified in job ads. For example, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) businesses could argue that hiring a worker from outside certain demographics could pose challenges inside the company and for customers. However, Gutman noted, the burden of proof that such discrimination is necessary would be upon the employer.