Employer can be sued for harassment in on-line forum 07-01-00
-- by Ann Kiernan
In a ground-breaking June 1 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a worker who is slurred online by her peers can sue the employer, along with her co-workers, for defamation, retaliation, and sexual harassment, even though the employer does not provide or control the on-line forum.
Tammy Blakey, a pilot for Continental Airlines, sued her employer, claiming that the pervasive presence of pornography in the cockpit created a hostile working environment. After a 1997 trial in Newark, NJ, she was awarded $1.7 million in attorneys fees, costs, and prejudgment interest.
While her suit against Continental was going on, Ms. Blakeys fellow pilots--both men and women--posted derogatory comments about her and her suit on a CompuServe electronic bulletin board known as the Continental Crew Members Forum. The Forum was part of a package that enabled Continental pilots and crew members to have on-line access to their schedules and flight assignments. The pilots comments attacked Ms. Blakey for bringing her suit, ridiculed her flying ability, called her a "feminazi", and accused her of being "out to get a quick buck" by exploiting the legal system.
Ms. Blakey claimed that she forwarded copies of the offending threads to Continental, but that Continental took no action. She brought a second suit, this time against not only Continental but also against the pilots around the country who had posted the messages.
The lower New Jersey courts threw out the suit, but the New Jersey Supreme Court voted unanimously to reinstate it. In deciding that the out-of-state pilots could be required to defend themselves in New Jersey, the court reasoned that the pilots posted their retaliatory messages on the Forum, knowing that those messages would be seen in New Jersey and might influence Ms. Blakeys New Jersey suit. The court also held that, if Ms. Blakey is able to prove at trial that the CompuServe Crew Members Forum was an integral part of the Continental workplace, then the airline was responsible for investigating and stopping any on-line harassment.
Blakey v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 751 A.2d 538 (N.J. 2000)
Protect your company against costly lawsuits like this one!
An Internet / e-mail usage policy will help you maintain the integrity of your system against viruses, and prevent lawsuits for everything from violations of intellectual property, anti-spam laws, sexual harassment, invasion of privacy, wrongful termination and more.
|Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.|