Quebec court approves class-action lawsuit against Facebook over alleged discriminatory employment, housing ads
The Quebec Court of Appeal is allowing a class-action lawsuit against Facebook to proceed after the social media giant was accused of allowing advertisers to discriminate against Quebecers based on their age, race and gender in ads for jobs and housing.
The lawsuit was originally launched in 2019 by a Quebec woman in her 60s who was searching for a job online and never saw ads for work on Facebook allegedly because of age-related filters in the company's advertising algorithm.
The Superior Court refused to approve the class-action suit in 2021, arguing that the proposed class definition was too broad. The woman appealed the ruling.
On Dec. 22, 2022, the appeal court approved the class-action lawsuit and allowed it to proceed. The panel of judges ruled that the number of Facebook users who could be implicated by the lawsuit "is not a reason to refuse authorization."
Audrey Boctor, a partner at the Montreal law firm that filed the application on behalf of the plaintiff, said excluding people from receiving job postings because of their age, race, or gender is a violation of Quebec's Charter of human rights and freedoms.
"Our position is that algorithmic discrimination that excludes people like women or older workers from receiving ads is just a modern form of the same type of discrimination that's clearly illegal under the Quebec charter," said Boctor in an interview Wednesday.
"I think the Court of Appeal recognizes that the law needs to needs to evolve with reality and how discrimination is actually alleged to be taking place."
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been tested in court.
The class definition is defined as Quebec residents who were looking for employment or housing between April 11, 2016, and the date of the appeal court judgment, and it could potentially include hundreds of thousands of claimants. In Quebec, class-action lawsuits are opt-out, which means people who fall into the class definition are automatically included unless they request otherwise.
Boctor said her client, Lyse Beaulieu, "felt a real attack on her dignity" when she learned about these Facebook practices that allowed employers to target younger job-seekers on the social media site.
"It's not the same as selling shampoo. We're talking about basic, fundamental rights," said Boctor.
The lawyer estimates that the case could seek up to $100 million in damages from Facebook if the legal challenge is successful.
Meta, the company that owns Facebook, did not comment on the court ruling when contacted by CTV News.
The company no longer allows advertisers to use gender or age to target their ads and requires advertisers to annually confirm their compliance with Meta's non-discrimination policy.