Class Action

Class-action lawsuit makes 'important' social point: Waddell

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

A class-action lawsuit against a social media giant claiming age and gender discrimination in employment and housing applications by its advertisers is “forging new ground,” says Toronto class-action lawyer Margaret Waddell.

A Montreal law firm has filed an application for the lawsuit against the company, alleging the social networking giant has allowed for discrimination by excluding specific people from employment and housing advertisements, according to Canadian HR Reporter.

“I think it’s exciting. This is a great area where innovative and thoughtful lawyers, who are prepared to push boundaries, can really achieve some social justice and that’s wonderful,” says Waddell, partner with Waddell Phillips Professional Corporation.

She tells AdvocateDaily.com the class-action approach makes sense in instances like these since the cost of an individual case “would so far outweigh the benefits.”

“But when you aggregate the claims, all of a sudden it’s something that makes economic sense. The class-action tool is really so powerful,” Waddell says.

According to Canadian HR Reporter, the company’s recruitment options allow employers to limit ages and gender to target specific recruits.

The suit alleges the social media company has violated rights guaranteed in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, along with similar laws across Canada, it reports.

“It’s really going to be a very challenging case for the plaintiffs to be able to demonstrate that the company was guilty of age discrimination or gender discrimination as opposed to the advertisers” who set the parameters on the ads, Waddell says.

“This is certainly a new and different context, and I don’t think it’s ever been addressed before,” she says. “It is putting a substantial burden on providers to really monitor each and every advertisement under their system.

“Now is that right or wrong? I think there is a pretty strong argument to be made that if it is going to offer its services, then it has a duty and an obligation to comply with the governing legislation, so just as it monitors for hate speech and other illegal activity, it needs to be cognizant of other legislation, and that may mean a higher level of scrutiny for its advertisers.”

Waddell adds it “makes perfect sense to have targeted marketing for goods and other consumer services.”

“However, as soon as you get into a field such as employment or residential rental, anything where the human rights legislation requires that there be no discrimination, there needs to be different forms,” she says. “They certainly need to be aware that there is legislation that’s different from the commercial context.”

Waddell says this is another example of how the internet continues to evolve and affect the legal landscape.

“Technology is moving so fast that the law is always running to catch up,” she says.

The lawsuit, she notes, is “doing what class actions are intended to do which is modify bad behaviour and protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

“It’s definitely forging new ground. I think it’s making an important social point,” she says. “I’m really pleased that the action’s been brought and it’s become public knowledge that this is going on and that it’s not acceptable behaviour.

“It’s a totally new attack on this company in a really thoughtful way, and I wish them every success,” Waddell says.

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