Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) has been sued in California over gender and age discrimination pertaining to financial services. The complaint was filed in San Francisco federal court by 54-year-old Neutah Opiotennione. It is a proposed class action, potentially exposing Facebook to billions of dollars in potential damages to users nationwide. The case is Opiotennione et al v Facebook Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 19-07185.
Facebook is accused of discriminating against older and female users by withholding advertising for financial services such as bank accounts, insurance, investments, and loans. Facebook lets financial services advertisers “target” prospective customers by age and gender, despite a recent overhaul covering other kinds of ads, in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. The complaint seeks damages for millions of Facebook users under the state’s civil rights law, which allows $4,000 of damages per violation.
In a statement, Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, compared Facebook’s ad targeting policies to a car company refusing to offer specific features to different demographics. He said, “The internet is not a place where you can discriminate against people because of their age or gender, particularly in financial services opportunities. It would be like General Motors refusing to offer women or older people the same features on a car as men or younger people.”
When contacted for comment, a Facebook spokeswoman said, “We’re reviewing the complaint. We’ve made significant changes to how housing, employment and credit opportunities are run on Facebook and continue to work on ways to prevent potential misuse. Our policies have long prohibited discrimination and we’re proud of the strides we’re making in this area.”
Facebook agreed to overhaul its targeted ad system, including for Instagram and Messenger, seven months ago to settle lawsuits by civil rights groups. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has alleged several Facebook advertisers broke the law by restricting job postings on the social network to people of certain ages or genders. The Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are also investigating the company.