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ACLU accuses Facebook of running job ads that women can't see

Facebook says it's reviewing the complaint.

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Facebook has been accused of running discriminatory housing ads too.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook has again been accused of allowing discriminatory ads on its social network.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and 10 employers for allegedly illegally targeting job ads on the social network to men only, excluding women and non-binary users from seeing the ads. The Communications Workers of America and Outten & Golden, a law firm, joined the ACLU i the action.

"Sex segregated job advertising has historically been used to shut women out of well-paying jobs and economic opportunities," Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women's Rights Project, said in a press release. "We can't let gender-based ad targeting online give new life to an form of discrimination that should have been eradicated long ago."

Most of the allegedly discriminatory job ads were for positions in traditionally male-dominated fields, Sherwin said. Those included roofing, auto repair and tire sales. The charges also allege that Facebook allowed the ads to target people based on age.

Facebook said it's reviewing the complaint.

"There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it's strictly prohibited in our policies, and over the past year, we've strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse," said spokesperson Joe Osborne. "We are reviewing the complaint and look forward to defending our practices."

The ACLU has been looking into Facebook's ad targeting tools for several months, Sherwin said. In addition to allowing advertisers to specifically select a gender -- male, female or all -- to target, Facebook's "Lookalike Audience" and detailed targeting features also enable employers to exclude women, Sherwin said.

As detailed in the ACLU complaint:

Many of these categories, when selected by advertisers as targeting inclusions or exclusions either explicitly categorize individuals based on their sex or will have a disparate impact based on sex and will disproportionately exclude women from receiving the ads because they are directly related to or highly correlated with gender. For example, the options include such categories as Single Dads, Single Moms, Soccer Mom, Working Moms, Working Mother, Bad Moms, Strong Single Moms!, Proud Single Mother, The Single Moms Club. Moreover, many of the options provided reflect gender stereotypes (e.g. by providing the option to choose "Working Moms" and not "Working Dads").

The charges come after Facebook came under fire last month for allegedly allowing discriminatory housing ads on its platform. The Department of Housing and Urban Development in August filed a complaint against Facebook, saying the social network lets landlords and home sellers choose who gets to see their ads based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability and ZIP code.

In August, Facebook also removed more than 5,000 ad-targeting categories in an effort to limit the ability of advertisers to exclude people based on ethnicity or religion. The company also began requiring advertisers to complete a course to educate them on the "difference between acceptable ad targeting and ad discrimination."

ACLU filed the charges on behalf of three female workers, the Communications Workers of America and all the women it says were prevented from seeing job ads by Facebook and employers.

First published Sept. 18, 8:35 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:43 a.m. PT: Adds additional comment from the ACLU.

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