The social network known for connecting prospects with their ideal employers, and vice versa, is now being sued by four individuals who claim LinkedIn cost them job opportunities.
One feature in particular, LinkedIn’s Reference Search, is what the plaintiffs are saying cost them these opportunities. Reference Search is only available to premium members as a tool for employers or recruiters to generate a list of people in their network who worked in the same company at the same time as a job candidate.
Basically, if you’re a recruiter and want to know if you have ever worked with any your potential candidates in the past, this tool will let you know.
The plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed last month in Northern California argue that this tool allowed potential employers to “anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based upon the information they gather,” all without knowing whether or not the information is even accurate.
The plaintiffs claim this is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). However, a spokesperson for LinkedIn says the company takes the privacy of its members seriously and intends to fight the lawsuit, seeing no merit in the plaintiffs’ claims. “A reference search does not reveal any of that member’s nonpublic information,” says the spokesperson.
FCRA currently applies to services offered over the Internet and mobile apps, but the suit against LinkedIn argues the law should apply to its reference lists as well.
It’s not uncommon for employers and job recruiters to use social media as a way to identify potential job candidates. Where the lines become blurred is when employers and recruiters hire outside firms to compile reports on potential employees. That’s a practice industry professionals refer to as “knockout” screening, and federal regulators have been looking into this over the past few years.
In LinkedIn’s help center the company explicitly lays out what the reference search tool does, but the concern is that members may not understand recruiters may run reference searches, or that the “trusted references” generated may have only a distant connection to them.
Whatever the outcome of this lawsuit might be it’s important to keep an eye on because it will set a precedent for other social media lawsuits in the future. What do you think? Do the plaintiffs actually have a case?
For full details see this writeup by the New York Times.