It seems that just when we get excited over a lawsuit’s potential for new social media pronouncements, we are left holding the litigation bag when the case abruptly settles. Almost one month ago to the day (February 3rd), we blogged about a lawsuit filed in California by Courtney Love’s former clothing designer, Dawn Simorangkir, whose demands for design payments owed were met by Ms. Love’s tweets that Simorangkir is a “drug-pushing prostitute” who was said to have had a “history of assault and battery who lost custody of her own child.”
Simorangkir claimed in her lawsuit that Love’s Twitter statements destroyed her fashion career to the tune of millions of dollars, and the hope was that the lawsuit would prompt a jury to decide for the first time whether a celebrity’s posts on Twitter could be considered libelous. However, just last week, Ms. Love agreed to pay more than $400,000 to settle the case, pursuant to an agreement that was not to be kept confidential. Indeed, news reports have quoted the designer’s attorney as saying: “[I]n order to show the world the comments were derogatory and completely illegal, it was imperative to my client to have the settlement be public.” Attorney speak aside, it is clear that we will have to wait for the next lawsuit to answer some of the very important social media questions that linger out there.
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development? It’s becoming somewhat of a trend – a new case of first impression (particularly high-profile) that gets settled before any novel decision can be issued. The NLRB’s Facebook firing case, and now the Courtney Love suit, are among the latest examples. Though I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised: Who really wants to be a guinea pig?
Perhaps these abrupt settlements can be explained as merely playing to the back of the baseball card where the statistics say that most lawsuits settle before trial. Or, perhaps these settlements are the result of litigants’ fears of becoming the first to lose these types of cases. Either way, one still cannot ignore that lawsuits continue to be filed over social media statements and conduct, and the claims themselves are not going away anytime soon. To make sure your company is not the guinea pig in the next case of first impression, it still is wise to put social media on the front burner of your corporate agendas and make sure your policies are consistent with those best practices that exist, at least for now.