Honeybaked Ham Can Access Harassed Employees’ Social Media
Representing about 20 women who complained about sexual harassment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing Honeybaked Ham, but the meat store is fighting back – with Facebook.
A federal judge hearing the case in Colorado on Nov. 7 agreed with the company that the women must produce information from their social media accounts as well as their cell phones, which he said could show whether class members were as emotionally and financially damaged as they claim.
The EEOC filed the class action charging harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation in September 2011, alleging that a female employees were subjected to “repeat and offensive unwanted sexual comments, innuendos, and physical touching by their regional manager despite frequent protests,” according to a press release.
A number of the women were disciplined or discharged by the company for complaining up the chain of command about the treatment, said the EEOC – thus the retaliation claim.
Now the ham slinger is going after their social media accounts in order to find evidence that may contradict their claims, including evidence of whether they are credible or biased, according to a post on K&L Gates’s Electronic Discovery Law blog.
‘Everything About Me’
The judge’s order acknowledged that class members had been using social media to communicate about “potentially relevant topics.” For example, the hocks broker showed that one woman had posted about what she expected to win financially in this lawsuit, her emotional state, what happened with her employment situation after she was fired, and more.
The judge said, “If all of this information was contained on pages filed in [an] ‘Everything About Me’ folder, it would need to be produced. Should the outcome be different because it is on one’s Facebook account?”
“There is a strong argument that storing such information on Facebook and making it accessible to others presents an even stronger case for production, at least as it concerns any privacy objection,” he explained. “It was the claimants (or at least some of them) who, by their own volition, created relevant communications and shared them with others.”
Privacy Concerns Remain
Forcing the women to reveal huge chunks of what might turn out to be personal information could be dicey since legally, the court can only require them to turn over information relevant to the case. In an effort to avoid the potential minefield of privacy issues which could be raised, the court has appointed a “special master” to process the information. The women will give him their cell phones and access to their social media accounts; he’ll sift through the material and make only items relevant to the case available to the court.
“This case is but one in the evolving landscape of social media discovery in employment cases,” says John Hyman, a lawyer with Kohrman Jackson & Krantz in Cleveland, in a post on The Ohio Employer’s Law Blog. Hyman notes that the judge took a very liberal view of the discovery of employees’ social media accounts. Other courts have limited such discovery.
“The image of an ‘Everything About Me’ folder is a powerful one,” points out Hyman who represents employers in disputes like this one and who says he plans to use the analogy when he goes after employees’ social media accounts in future cases.
If you’ve been sexually harassed at work and need to speak to a labor & employment lawyer, contact one on Lawyers.com.