Case: Spees v. Facebook

No Court

Filed Date: 2018

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

Spees v. Facebook is a lawsuit brought by several women and the Communication Workers of America to hold Facebook accountable for discriminatory advertising practices. 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 bas…

Spees v. Facebook is a lawsuit brought by several women and the Communication Workers of America to hold Facebook accountable for discriminatory advertising practices.

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 September 2018, several women and the Communications Workers of America filed this charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The woman and Communications Workers of America were represented by the ACLU and Outten & Golden LLP. The case alleged sex discrimination in employment advertisements on Facebook. The charge challenged Facebook's violations of federal, state, and local laws that prohibit employers and employment agencies from engaging in sex discrimination violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and all state and local anti-discrimination statutes.

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

Summary Authors

Emma Himes (3/6/2020)

Related Cases

Mobley v. Facebook (Onuoha v. Facebook), Northern District of California (2016)

National Fair Housing Alliance et al. v. Facebook, Southern District of New York (2018)

Riddick v. Facebook, Northern District of California (2018)

Communications Workers of America v. Facebook, No Court (2018)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Summary of Settlement Between Civil Rights Advocates and Facebook

March 19, 2019

March 19, 2019

Settlement Agreement

Charge of Discrimination

None

None

Complaint

Exhibit A Programmatic Relief

None

None

Settlement Agreement

Resources

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: District of Columbia

Case Type(s):

Equal Employment

Key Dates

Filing Date: 2018

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Several women and the Communications Workers of America

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU National (all projects)

Outten & Golden

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Facebook, Private Entity/Person

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e

State Anti-Discrimination Law

Special Case Type(s):

Out-of-court

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Private Settlement Agreement

Amount Defendant Pays: 0

Order Duration: 2019 - 2021

Issues

General:

Disparate Impact

Disparate Treatment

Discrimination-area:

Hiring

Discrimination-basis:

Gender identity

Sex discrimination

Affected Gender:

Female