Social Media Employment Law

Slowly Stripping Away Privacy Rights?

We have been starting to see more court decisions on the issue of whether private social media accounts can be discovered by a party in a lawsuit.   Most of the cases, however, have been in the context of a personal injury dispute (e.g., car accident, slip and fall, etc.).   Finally, a new case involving the discovery of social media in an employment lawsuit has now fallen into our lap.

In In re Penthouse Executive Club Compensation Litigation (federal court in New York), a group of former “entertainers in the Penthouse Executive Club” brought a wage and hour lawsuit against their employer.   In what was nothing short of naked ambition, the employer requested that the court compel one of the Plaintiffs to produce nine pages of Facebook messages that she exchanged with other Plaintiffs, and with non-parties, about the possibility of others joining the suit.  

Interestingly, the exotic nature and characteristics of social media did not really factor into the reasoning of the decision to partially grant (and partially deny) the employer’s request.   Indeed, the holding was fairly anti-climactic, with the privilege and work product doctrine analysis the same as it would have been if any other non-social media or non-electronic document had been at issue.   

District Judge Kimba Wood took the pole position on this issue, and made the following rulings:  




Employer Take Away:   What should you as an employer take away from this development?   

It is worth the reminder that there may be times when your company can discover social media messages and posts that may be helpful to your lawsuit.   It is also worth remembering that the flip side remains true as well:  what you and your employees write and post through social media (particularly on company owned or sponsored sites) may be discoverable by the other side, and could potentially prove damaging to your case.

Bottom line is that you should train your employees about the virtues and perils of “speaking” through social media, and continue to stress the notion that the ease and informality of social media does not eliminate the possibility that what is said could be used against the company.    By continuing to train your employees in that regard, you will maximize the likelihood that any of your lawsuits will have a happy ending.

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