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Case Name National Fair Housing Alliance et al. v. Facebook PA-NY-0004
Docket / Court 1:18-cv-02689 ( S.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Fair Housing/Lending/Insurance
Public Accomm./Contracting
Attorney Organization ACLU National (all projects)
Case Summary
On March 27, 2018, four nonprofit fair housing organizations filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs sued Facebook under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3613; two of the plaintiffs also sued under the New York City Human Rights Law ... read more >
On March 27, 2018, four nonprofit fair housing organizations filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs sued Facebook under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3613; two of the plaintiffs also sued under the New York City Human Rights Law. Represented by private and in-house counsel, the plaintiffs alleged that Facebook created categories on its advertising platform that facilitated unlawful housing discrimination in housing ads and sought declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, and attorney’s fees. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that Facebook’s advertising tools allowed users to target ads based on sex, family status, disability, national origin, and other protected characteristics in violation of the Fair Housing Act and New York City’s anti-discrimination laws.

This case developed from a series of investigations into Facebook’s advertising tools by the plaintiffs (the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Fair Housing Justice Center, Inc., the Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio). The plaintiffs created and submitted their own ads to Facebook in New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, and San Antonio. According to the plaintiffs, their experiments showed that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude families with children, women, and users with interests based on disability and national origin. For example, the National Fair Housing Alliance posted ads for a fictional real estate company and requested it not be shown to “parents with toddlers,” “parents with preschoolers,” “parents with early school-age children,” “moms of grade school kids,” and “moms of high school kids;” the Alliance claimed that by combining these exclusions, advertisers could discriminate against people with children. The plaintiffs then conducted similar experiments in other jurisdictions using other protected criteria. (Facebook had previously removed certain race-based targeting methods because of an earlier controversy about “affinity marketing.”)

On June 4, 2018, the defendants motioned to transfer the case to the Northern District of California or, alternatively, to dismiss the case. Facebook argued that, by agreeing to its terms of use when creating their Facebook accounts, the plaintiffs agreed to have their suits litigated in California. Facebook also argued under the first-filed rule that Onuoha v. Facebook, a pending suit in California, had priority over the plaintiffs’ suit. In addition, Facebook argued that the court did not have personal jurisdiction and that the plaintiffs did not have standing. Finally, Facebook argued that it was immune from suit under the Communications Decency Act and that the plaintiffs failed to allege discriminatory conduct by Facebook itself.

On June 25, 2018, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. The plaintiffs clarified their original complaint by alleging that Facebook provides a service related to "the business of selling or renting dwellings" under the Fair Housing Act and that its creation of categories was discriminatory. The court (Judge John G. Koeltl) denied Facebook’s motion to transfer or dismiss as moot on July 2, 2018, likely because of the plaintiffs’ amendment. Later that month, Facebook again moved to transfer or dismiss.

Over the course of the fall, the parties briefed the pending motions. They also engaged in settlement talks that yielded a motion to dismiss by the plaintiffs on February 6, 2019, and a motion to re-open the case to enter the settlement on March 16.

In March 2019, Facebook reached settlements in three civil rights cases and two complaints before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over ad discrimination on its platform. The settlement included National Fair Housing Alliance v. Facebook (S.D.N.Y), Communications Workers of America v. Facebook (EEOC), Spees v. Facebook (EEOC), Mobley v. Facebook (N.D. Cal.), and Riddick v. Facebook (N.D. Cal.), all available on the Clearinghouse. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg commented on the settlement in a blog post: “There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads…We can do better.” Sandburg attributed the civil rights audit in Facebook’s decision to settle.

Pursuant to the settlement agreement, specific to National Fair Housing Alliance, Facebook agreed to pay $1,950,000 to plaintiffs for alleged damages. Additionally, Facebook agreed to provide $500,000 in credit for advertising on Facebook to the plaintiffs. Facebook also agreed to create and administer to certain employees a training program on federal housing law in consultation with the National Fair Housing Alliance. The parties agreed that the plaintiffs could continue to run test ads on Facebook to monitor the efficacy of Facebook’s policy changes. And Facebook agreed to meet with the National Fair Housing Alliance at least once every six months to review Facebook’s ad targeting policies.

The parties agreed that Hunter Hughes III or another mutually agreeable mediator would resolve disputes about implementing the settlement agreement before the parties would return to court. The duration of the settlement was defined as a three-year period from the date that Facebook implemented certain reforms about ad creation specified in the agreement. The court approved the settlement on March 29, 2019 and retained jurisdiction to enforce it.

The terms of the settlement included promises by Facebook to make significant changes to their advertising tools to curb the availability of advertisers to target users based on protected characteristics. The changes will affect Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. Facebook agreed to create a separate portal for ads in areas of housing, employment and credit. The parties agreed to monitor the changes for three years and to study the potential that the algorithm creates unintended bias. Finally, Facebook promised to change how it targets audiences for advertisements without using protected classes like race and gender to generate an audience.

As of April 2020, the settlement was being enforced.

Cianan Lesley - 04/16/2019
Emma Himes - 04/01/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Content of Injunction
Comply with advertising/recruiting requirements
Discrimination Prohibition
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Provide antidiscrimination training
Reporting
Training
Disability
disability, unspecified
Discrimination-area
Housing Sales/Rental
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Family discrimination
National origin discrimination
Race discrimination
Sex discrimination
General
Access to public accommodations - privately owned
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Housing
Website
Language
Spanish
National Origin/Ethnicity
Hispanic
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Race
Black
Race, unspecified
Causes of Action Fair Housing Act/Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.
State law
Defendant(s) Facebook Inc.
Plaintiff Description Four nonprofit fair housing organizations.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU National (all projects)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Damages
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2019 - 2022
Filed 03/27/2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing FH-CA-0026 : Mobley v. Facebook (Onuoha v. Facebook) (N.D. Cal.)
PA-CA-0004 : Riddick v. Facebook (N.D. Cal.)
EE-DC-0080 : Communications Workers of America v. Facebook (No Court)
EE-DC-0079 : Spees v. Facebook (No Court)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  SUMMARY OF SETTLEMENTS BETWEEN CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATES AND FACEBOOK
ACLU
Date: May 2019
By: ACLU
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Facebook Lets Advertisers Exclude Users by Race
ProPublica
Date: October 2016
By: Julia Angwin and Terry Parris Jr. (ProPublica)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
1:18-cv-02689 (S.D.N.Y.)
PA-NY-0004-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/29/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PA-NY-0004-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/27/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 33]
PA-NY-0004-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/25/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement and Release
PA-NY-0004-0003.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 03/18/2019
Source: Public.Resource.Org
show all people docs
Judges Koeltl, John George (S.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Berman, David H. (New York) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-9000
Houk, Diane Lee (New York) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-0001 | PA-NY-0004-0002 | PA-NY-0004-0003 | PA-NY-0004-9000
Rosenfeld, Katherine (New York) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-9000
Williams, Morgan Whitney (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-0003 | PA-NY-0004-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Blavin, Jonathan H. (California) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-9000
Kim, Elizabeth Ann (California) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-9000
Patashnik, Joshua (California) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-9000
Ring, Rosemarie T (California) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-0003 | PA-NY-0004-9000
Other Lawyers Kennedy, David J. (New York) show/hide docs
PA-NY-0004-9000

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