Plaintiffs’ Electronic Communications Become Public in Sexual Harassment Trial

Our Boston sexual harassment lawyers know that many individuals who file a sexual harassment lawsuit find it difficult for the fact that it involves dredging up uncomfortable or painful memories.

It can also sometimes mean that defense counsel will delve into their personal lives. And, in an increasing number of cases, employee’s Facebook posts or other quasi-public forms of communication are being introduced into court as evidence. On the employer side, case law and legislation are quickly redefining the rules. In New Jersey, for instance, lawmakers are considering a proposal that would forbid employers from requesting access to an employee’s Facebook account. handonkeyboard.jpg

Regardless of your circumstances, it does not make sexual harassment acceptable – or legal. You are entitled by law to work in an environment that is free from harassment, sexual innuendos or quid pro quo demands.

That said, it’s also important for you to keep discussions about your case between you and your attorney. In particular, be wary of making posts on social media sites or in other electronic communications.

It’s long been known that law enforcement has gained access to such postings when they might be relevant in criminal cases. But now, a federal judge presiding over a sexual harassment case in Colorado has ordered the plaintiffs to hand over their Facebook passwords and text message records, in a move that has sparked uproar from privacy advocates.

Still, the judge isn’t backing down.

The approximately 20 plaintiffs, in conjunction with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has alleged that a manager often groped female employees and made sexual requests of those who worked for him at a food chain distributor.

The judge’s order came in response to the food chain’s request, which purported that the women posted on the social media sites regarding details of the case and estimations of how much money they expected to win.

Additionally, the company alleged that one of the women was seen in a photo wearing a shirt emblazoned with a name she claimed the manager had called her, which she said had been highly offensive. There were also reportedly notes from one former employee about her positive outlook on life after she was fired, as well as her “self-described sexual aggressiveness,” and sexual commentary between her and others.

There were also reportedly text messages exchanged among plaintiffs regarding the case.

As the director of consumer privacy for the Center for Democracy and Technology was quoted as saying, “It’s an awful ruling.” He said not only does it mandate the disclosure of personal information that’s irrelevant to the case, but it’s horrible from a security perspective.

The judge, however, maintains that the women opened themselves up to this by putting such information on a “public” platform.

This case illustrates why it’s best to keep your electronic communications regarding any case, but particularly a case as sensitive as sexual harassment, to a minimum, until the conclusion of the litigation. You should disclose any such communications to your attorney promptly.

The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call 617-489-0817 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:
Judge orders women in sexual harassment case to hand over Facebook logins, Nov. 21, 2012, By Lisa Vaas, Naked Security

More Blog Entries:
Massachusetts Sexual Harassment Claim from Former City Employee, Nov. 20, 2012, Massachusetts Employment Lawyer Blog

Boston Bar Assosiation