Supreme Court Turns Away Meta In Battle Over Housing Ads

The Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place a ruling that allowed Meta Platform's users to proceed with claims that the company's prior ad-targeting options violated discrimination laws.

As is customary, the court didn't give a reason for its refusal to intervene in the battle.

The ruling means Meta must now face a class-action complaint alleging that former ad-targeting options enabled advertisers to prevent housing ads from being served to users based on their race, sex, age or other protected characteristics.

The complaint, initially filed in 2019 by New York resident Rosemarie Vargas and others, was one of several lawsuits against Facebook over allegedly discriminatory ads. By the time Vargas sued, Facebook had already agreed to prohibit advertisers of housing, employment or credit offers from targeting ads based on age, gender, ZIP code or ethnic affinity.



U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in the Northern District of California dismissed Vargas's complaint in 2021, describing it as “the sort of generalized grievance” that doesn't give people the right to sue in federal court.

Orrick also said Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protected Facebook from liability for illegal ads posted by outside parties. That law broadly immunizes web companies from liability for material created by third parties.

Vargas and the others then appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed Orrick's ruling and reinstated the lawsuit.

That court ruled both that the allegations were specific enough to warrant further proceedings, and that Meta might not be protected by Section 230.

“Plaintiff Vargas alleges a concrete and particularized injury -- deprivation of truthful information and housing opportunities -- whether or not she can establish all the elements of her claims later in the litigation,” the appellate judges wrote.

They added that the allegations, if proven true, could show that Facebook was a “co-developer” of the ads -- in which case it wouldn't be immunized by Section 230.

Meta then asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the case, arguing that the allegations, even if proven true, wouldn't show how Vargas or the others were harmed.

“They do not allege that any housing matching their specific (and often plainly unrealistic) criteria actually existed,” Meta wrote. “Nor do they allege that such housing was available during the specific periods they searched for housing on Facebook.”

Next story loading loading..