The Power of Autowrong in Life and Employment Litigation

Are you tired of people refusing to take accountability for their actions? Tired of excuse after excuse for potentially offensive words? Sick of folks blaming grammar lunacy on their iPhones?

If you answered “yes” to all three questions, please join my crusade to rid the world of the misnomer that is “autocorrect.” Or, as I like to say, “autowrong.” A close cousin to the curious “near-miss” used when two objects fortunately avoid hitting each other (wouldn’t that be a “near-hit”??), my experience with “autocorrect” is that it results in more wrong than correct. But as usual, I digress.

Shall we take this back to social media and employment law? A new lawsuit filed in Ohio entitled Warmack v. University of Cincinnati may explore the issue. In Warmack, plaintiff claims that he was copied on an e-mail between an academic director and plaintiff’s supervisor that said “I hate [N-word], was not able to get in.” In the course of its investigation, the university has apparently stated that the message was not the product of intentional racial animosity, but rather the result of a prank by an unknown individual who gained access to the supervisor’s iPad and altered the autocorrect setting to substitute “he” with the phrase “I hate [N-word].” The supervisor apparently didn’t notice the autocorrect (autowrong?) change and sent messages containing the offensive phrase.

We shall see where this goes.

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

We all know by now that social media and electronic communications make it so easy and quick to send messages to one individual or the masses. If the university’s response is true, who ultimately should be the responsible party here – an individual who may have unlawfully gained access to the iPad or the individual who nevertheless sent an offensive message because of autowrong? Perhaps this case will sort through that.

In the meantime, this is another great cautionary tale about social media use by employees and employers. It is no longer critical that you are only extra cognizant of who is going to receive the message (click here for my rant 5 years ago on the similarly annoying/troubling use of “reply to all”), but also extra cognizant on what you are sending in what you may have thought was an informal communication that can’t be taken back and can’t really be permanently deleted.

About The Author

Michael C. Schmidt is the vice chair of the firm’s Labor & Employment Department, and the office managing partner, vice chair, of the New York Midtown office, where he is resident. For more than two decades, Mike has concentrated his practice on representing companies and management in all facets of employment law, such as: (i) defense in litigation involving wage and hour (overtime and unpaid compensation), discrimination, harassment, retaliation and whistle-blowing, non-competes and trade secrets, and disability and other leave-related issues; (ii) day-to-day counseling and in-house training on issues from hiring to firing, and other questions unique to his client’s industries and business; and (iii) drafting and reviewing employment agreements, termination and severance agreements, confidentiality and non-competes, and employment policies and manuals.

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About Social Media Employment Law Blog
Social Media Employment Law Blog is devoted to the interplay between social media and employment law, an extremely topical and significant area of law for employers in this new technology era. Published and edited by Michael Schmidt, Vice Chair of the Labor & Employment Department, Mike concentrates in representing management in all facets of employment law and has been frequently quoted on employment law topics, and is regularly interviewed by trade publications and national journals for his opinions on legal trends.
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