University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Communications Workers of America v. Facebook EE-DC-0080
Docket / Court docket unknown ( No Court )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Attorney Organization ACLU National (all projects)
Outten & Golden
Case Summary
Communications Workers of America v. Facebook is a lawsuit brought by an international labor union representing over 700,000 workers and several older workers to hold Facebook accountable for discriminatory advertising practices relating to age. In an investigation, the union discovered that ... read more >
Communications Workers of America v. Facebook is a lawsuit brought by an international labor union representing over 700,000 workers and several older workers to hold Facebook accountable for discriminatory advertising practices relating to age. In an investigation, the union discovered that hundreds of employers and employment agencies were illegally targeting their employment ads on Facebook to exclude older workers who fall outside specified age ranges (such as ages 18 to 40, or ages 22 to 45), purposely preventing these older workers from seeing the ads or pursuing job opportunities.

This lawsuit was brought in concurrence with 66 civil rights lawsuits filed against employers including employers Nebraska Furniture Mart, Sandhills Publishing Company, Need Work Today, Renewal by Andersen LLC, Rice Tire, JK Moving Services, Enhanced Roofing & Modeling, and Xenith for using Facebook ads to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, and other protected classes. The claims were filed in response to an investigation by ProPublica which exposed the discriminatory advertising on Facebook. In November 2016, the first civil rights lawsuit was filed against Facebook in California, on behalf of millions of people of color who had missed opportunities for housing, jobs, and credit. This prompted a second major lawsuit by the Fair Housing Advocates in New York.

In January 2018, Communications Workers of America v. Facebook was filed with the EEOC alleging age discrimination in employment advertisements on Facebook. The union was represented by Outten & Golden LLP and the ACLU. The charge challenged Facebook's violations of federal, state, and local laws that prohibit employers and employment agencies from engaging in age discrimination violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and all state and local anti-discrimination statutes. This complaint with the EEOC was litigated in combination with Spees v. Facebook, a case that focused on sex discrimination in Facebook ads.

Facebook lawyers initially moved to have all the cases dismissed. When CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before congress earlier in April 2018, he acknowledged that protecting people from illegal ad discrimination was a work in progress. Following the hearing, Facebook agreed to a civil rights audit. The holistic review of all possible civil rights issues on Facebook was led by Laura Murphy, the former head of the ACLU in Washington, and included experts from the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. The outcome of this review led to a settlement of this charge and several other pending cases.

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 Communications Workers of America v. Facebook (EEOC), Spees v. Facebook (EEOC), Mobley v. Facebook (N.D. Cal.), National Fair Housing Alliance v. Facebook (S.D.N.Y), 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.

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 March 2020, the settlement was being enforced.

Emma Himes - 03/06/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Content of Injunction
Comply with advertising/recruiting requirements
Age discrimination
Direct Suit on Merits
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action State Anti-Discrimination Law
State law
Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
Defendant(s) Facebook
Plaintiff Description Communications Workers of America and other older employees
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU National (all projects)
Outten & Golden
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2019 - 2021
Filed 2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing PA-CA-0004 : Riddick v. Facebook (N.D. Cal.)
PA-NY-0004 : National Fair Housing Alliance et al. v. Facebook (S.D.N.Y.)
FH-CA-0026 : Mobley v. Facebook (Onuoha v. Facebook) (N.D. Cal.)
EE-DC-0079 : Spees v. Facebook (No Court)
Additional Resources
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Date: May 2019
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
not recorded
Charge of Discrimination
EE-DC-0080-0001.pdf | Detail
not recorded
Summary of Settlements Between Civil Rights Advocates and Facebook
EE-DC-0080-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: ACLU

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