Articles Posted in Social Media Lawsuit

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A lawsuit filed by an Ohio family on behalf of their bullied daughter has been settled. The family sued the Green Local School District in 2011, alleging that their daughter had been systematically bullied over the course of years at school.

Bully%20Stop%20Violence%2053127538-001.jpgThe 2011 complaint alleges that the student suffered abuse that included epithets like “dirty Jew” and being knocked into the lockers. Allegations of shoving, tripping and kicking are also made in the complaint. Other incidents involved a stabbing with a pencil and the creation of a hate-filled Facebook page. Two students in the district also created a kill list that prominently featured the victim’s name.

The student’s parents took their concerns to various school officials. Working their way up the chain of responsibility, they eventually became aware that the district was unlikely to take any real action on the case. The district had an anti-bullying policy, but the attorney for the family says that they seemed to have problems actually taking action when the policy was violated. Attorney Ken Meyers asserted that students caught bullying were only given the lightest of penalties.

The family felt that they weren’t truly being heard. They pulled the student from her school and filed a lawsuit. After three years of fighting the lawsuit the district finally agreed to pay a settlement of half a million dollars. The money will be jointly provided by the school district and their insurer.

A statement from the school district announced the settlement, commenting that they “are pleased the lawsuit is now behind” them. It goes on to say that “the Board of Education condemns bullying without reservation,” and that students are encouraged to report instances of bullying to administrators. Nonetheless, the district must submit to a U.S. Department of Education review of its policies as a part of the settlement. They have also agreed that teachers will receive enhanced response training.

It’s always disappointing when cases like these can’t be resolved in the initial stages. It’s an expensive lesson for this school district, but hopefully they will be better equipped to respond to future instances of bullying.
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The Internet is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Take the divorce matter that was recently ruled on by a judge in New York. The ruling is one of the first times that service of process by Facebook has been allowed.

Social%20Media%20Magnified%2044298834-001.jpgNormally, service of process is performed in person. A process server or law enforcement officer delivers the legal papers to the party to the lawsuit at their home or place of business. It may also be possible to mail the papers to that party’s last known address. These are effective means of notifying parties that a lawsuit has been filed or of the commencement of some other type of legal action.

However, the courts are occasionally stymied when it comes to tracking down people for process service. That’s what happened in the unusual divorce of Ellanora Baidoo and her estranged husband Victor Blood-Dzraku. The two married in 2009, but never cohabitated. Baidoo began divorce proceedings in New York. However, she was finding it difficult to track down her spouse. He is unemployed and his last known address was vacated in 2011. The U.S. Post Office had no forwarding address information for Blood-Dzraku.

It seemed like Baidoo would have to resort to notice by publication to inform her husband about the divorce. Publishing divorce notices in newspapers is a practice that’s been used for centuries. Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper notes that this type of service can be time consuming and expensive. When Baidoo showed that she regularly communicates with Blood-Dzraku via Facebook, Cooper decided that service by Facebook would suffice in this instance.

Baidoo’s attorney must now send Blood-Dzraku proper notice via a private message on Facebook. For three consecutive weeks he is required to send the same notice, unless the erstwhile husband confirms receipt.

Cooper’s decision is rather groundbreaking. He calls social media process service the “next frontier in the developing law of the service of process.” While some attorneys agree with the court’s assessment of the situation, others remain dubious. Cooper’s solution seems a logical one in circumstances where a party is dodging service or is otherwise difficult to locate.

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Last month LinkedIn agreed to pay approximately $6 million in overtime to 359 current employees. The settlement is based on investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor finding that the company violated federal wage laws.

Social%20Media%20Compass%2054107999-001.jpgLinkedIn reached a settlement agreement with the Labor Department to pay $3.3 million in retroactive overtime wages and an additional $2.5 million in damages to workers in California, New York, Illinois, and Nebraska. A representative from the government agency reported that LinkedIn has already mailed payments to employees involved in the settlement.

To its credit, LinkedIn acted very professionally, like a good corporate citizen should. The Labor Department reported the company acted responsibly and cooperated fully by working quickly to resolve the dispute and pay back wages owed.

A representative from LinkedIn stated that the wage and hour violations were due to a systemic failure that did not allow their sales team to properly track their hours. The Labor Department’s investigation revealed that the company failed to record and compensate employees for all hours worked. This is not an uncommon violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In addition to paying the $6 million settlement for unpaid wages, the company is also responsible for training employees and providing education to ensure that all work performed is “on-the-clock”.

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As various social media formats and blogs continue to evolve, the definition of free speech may also evolve. That seems to be the case with a former Bucks County, Pennsylvania English teacher who sued her former employer.

Grades%20on%20a%20chalkboard%2033883975-001.jpgThe situation began in 2011, when teacher Natalie Munroe began blowing off steam through her personal blog. She routinely made attacks on her students, whom she did not name, in the blog. Using descriptors like “utterly loathsome,” “frightfully dim” and “jerk.”

Before long, links to her blog were being floated around parents and students in Central Bucks School District. Despite receiving positive teacher evaluations in 2008, Munroe found herself being put on a disciplinary work plan because of the furor her blog posts caused. Subsequent evaluations were poor, and Munroe was terminated.

Munroe and her attorney claim that the work plan and the poor evaluations were retaliation for the blog posts. Further, they claimed that the posts should have been protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

A recent decision handed down by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe disagrees with the plaintiff’s assertions. Judge Rufe used a time-tested standard for determining whether or not the blog posts were protected speech. She noted that Munroe was a public employee who may be held to a different standard when disparaging their employer. Ultimately, Judge Rufe said that the blog posts caused a significant disruption at the school and within the district. This disruption made it difficult for the district to carry on its essential function to educate students. Accordingly, Munroe’s blog posts were not protected speech.

Because of the judge’s ruling, this case will not be proceeding to trial. Legal scholars warn that anyone who is employed by a public entity should be exceedingly careful about their social media presence. In most instances, it’s best not to blog or otherwise post comments about a public employer, coworkers or recipients of the services provided by government entities. Doing so may put the blogger’s job in jeopardy, and there is a very good chance that a court will agree that the employer was within their rights.
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A Southwest Airlines traveler is expressing his displeasure after he was temporarily removed from a flight for tweeting about a gate agent. Duff Watson was traveling between Denver and Minneapolis with his children, aged 6 and 9. Watson was a Southwest Airlines A list traveler, a status that granted him priority seating.

Social%20Media%20Magnified%2044298834-001.jpgWatson prepared to board the plane with his children, only to be told by a gate agent that while his A list status entitled him to early boarding privileges, his children were exempt. As a regular Southwest customer, Watson says the decision mystified him. He had been able to have priority boarding with his children on the airline on several past occasions. When the agent denied him the ability to board in the A group with his children, Watson told her that he was going to tweet about the incident.

“RUDEST AGENT IN DENVER. KIMBERLY S. GATE C39. NOT HAPPY @SWA,” was Watson’s all caps posting. He boarded the plane with his children, only to hear his name being called over the loudspeaker. They were being asked to leave the plane.

The gate agent said she felt threatened by the use of her name and location in the tweet. She requested that Watson delete the tweet before he and his children would be allowed to board the plane. Watson eventually complied after a supervisor was called in to handle the situation. However, the damage was already done.

The story has been reported in many media outlets with the deleted tweet being read more times than it might have been otherwise. Watson vows never to fly Southwest again. In a statement, the airline notes that a “customer was briefly removed from flight #2347 … to resolve the conversation outside of the aircraft and away from the other Passengers.” The statement goes on to say that Watson was not removed from the plane only because of the tweet.

Southwest will not be releasing details about what, if any, disciplinary actions were taken against the gate agent. Vouchers were provided to all three travelers, but it seems unlikely that they will be used.

While no lawsuit has been threatened or filed, time will tell if this incident will lead to another in the evergrowing number of social media lawsuits.

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An offhand, two word social media post has ignited controversy in Minnesota. Reid Sagehorn, who at the time of the post was a 17 year-old senior at Rogers High School in Rogers, Minnesota, responded to a Twitter post with a flippant comment. Though it took only seconds to post it, the fallout has lasted for months and has now become the subject of a lawsuit.

Social%20Media%2037877338-001.jpgIn January of 2014, Sagehorn was asked by an anonymous Twitter user whether or not he had ever made out with a 28 year-old physical education teacher at Rogers High School. Sagehorn replied, “Actually,yes.” Although he insists the comment was made in jest, school district officials took it seriously. Charging that his remark damaged the reputation of the teacher, the principal at Rogers High suspended Sagehorn for five days. Another five days were later tacked on before even more days were added, resulting in a suspension of about seven weeks.

The local police also got involved in the melee. They opened a criminal defamation investigation against Sagehorn. Although no charges were ultimately filed, Sagehorn contends that the felony investigation further harmed his reputation.

While enrolled at Rogers High School, Sagehorn was a member of the National Honor Society and a star athlete. He was in the midst of his senior year when the Twitter controversy began. Overcome with humiliation, Sagehorn withdrew from Rogers and graduated from another local high school. Nonetheless, the fallout from the suspension and the investigation by police continues to haunt him.

That’s why Sagehorn recently filed a lawsuit that names various school district and police officials as defendants. The lawsuit seeks damages for the harm done to Sagehorn’s reputation. His lawyers claim in the complaint that Sagehorn’s posting in no way posed a threat to the teacher. Moreover, he made the post on his own time without using any school resources. Accordingly, his lawyers believe his First Amendment rights were violated by the actions of the school and the police. The outcome of this case may well set a precedent for how schools respond to student use of social media.

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Last month, a case was settled between a 6th grader and the Minnewaska School District in Minnesota over a Facebook post from 2012. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota defended Riley Stratton, who was punished for a post that she made on her Facebook page.

Social%20Media%20Compass%2054107999-001.jpgHer school forced her to hand over passwords for her Facebook and email accounts. The ACLU won their case after two years, and now the school district must strengthen privacy protections and pay damages.

Riley stated that she was happy that the case was finally settled, and that her school has to change its rules so that other students don’t have to go through what she went through. “It was so embarrassing and hard on me to go through, but I hope that schools all over see what happened and don’t punish other students the way I was punished,” she said after the settlement.

Stratton was repeatedly punished for a comment that she made on her Facebook page while at home about a faculty member at her school. Her Facebook was then searched by school officials with police present because a conversation about sex with a boy was also investigated on her Facebook. After the ordeal, Riley no longer wanted to attend school.

The school district must now change its policies and pay $70,000 to Riley and the ACLU-MN to cover court costs and support other ACLU-MN efforts in the future. The case is certainly a lesson for school districts in every part of the country as many have changed their policies regarding social media and students.

From the ACLU press release: “We are pleased with the settlement and hope this sends a clear message to other schools that is bad policy to police students’ behavior on social media,” said Charles Samuelson, who is the Executive Director of the ACLU-MN. “There may be times when it is appropriate for schools to intervene, but only in extreme circumstances when there are true threats or safety risks.”

The school district’s new policy will work to protect students’ privacy while also training staff members to ensure that correct procedure is followed.

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In some cases, social networking websites represent wonderful opportunities for users to connect with old friends and family or to make new acquaintances. However, that isn’t always the case with MeetMe.com. This Pennsylvania based service features an app that allows users to locate other users within convenient physical proximity. Essentially, the app uses GPS signals from the users’ cell phones to alert them when other users are near.

Online%20Risks%2057598610-001.jpgThe trouble is that MeetMe.com appears to have put few safeguards in place. People as young as 13 may sign up for the service, and it’s very easy for older users to represent themselves as much younger people. The result has been a number of sexual assaults occurring between MeetMe.com users who are over the age of 18, and other users who are as young as 12.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera recently filed a lawsuit against the networking website. He believes that MeetMe.com’s lack of safety regulations provides sexual predators with a convenient means of finding victims. In Herrera’s complaint, he notes that anyone can sign up for an account at the website, and that it’s remarkably easy to enter any desired birth date. The site has about 40 million registered users. Estimates suggest that teens between 13 and 17 make up about a quarter of that number.

Teens may sign up for the website without obtaining the approval of their parents or legal guardians. This had led to several frightening incidents in California and in other places across the country. Incidents include a 29 year-old man who used MeetMe.com to send explicit messages to teen girls, a 23 year-old man who sexually assaulted a minor he met via the website and a 21 year-old man who represented himself as a 16 year-old in order to have sex with two minors, one just 12 years-old.

MeetMe’s representatives have not made substantive comments on the suit, but say they have a dedicated security team that routinely scouts the website for sexual predators. It seems likely that MeetMe will be forced to review some of its policies in light of this litigation.

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A dispute between a television show’s fan and the network that airs the show has progressed to a lawsuit. Stacey Mattocks became a fan of a show called “The Game” back in 2008. Mattocks liked the show so much that she built a Facebook fan page devoted to the series.

Social%20Media%2037877338-001.jpgUnfortunately, the network soon cancelled the show. Dedicated to the idea that the series deserved a longer life, Mattocks began campaigning to bring the show back on the air. BET eventually decided to pick up the series, and the debut episode gave the network its second highest ratings in its 30 year history.

This portion of the facts makes it seem as if the situation was a win-win for all involved. What is left out is the back and forth wrangling Mattocks and BET have engaged in for about two years over ownership and control of that pivotal Facebook fan page.

As Mattocks alleges, her popular Facebook page helped generate buzz for the series’ premier on BET. The network was fully aware of the page, and even offered to pay Mattocks an hourly wage for her time devoted to the site. Later, BET sent her a contract offering her $85,000 in exchange for rights to the Facebook page. Under the contract, Mattocks could have been terminated from administrating the site at any time. She refused to sign.

BET still tried to coax itself into Mattocks’ good graces, even flying her to LA for the premier. Then BET started its own Facebook page devoted to The Game in what Mattocks describes in her lawsuit as an attempt to compete. Offers regarding acquiring rights to Mattocks’ Facebook page continued to go back and forth, culminating in BET asking Facebook to disable the page. They did so, but only for a short time.

Mattocks says she lost income as a result of the removal of the page. Among other charges in the complaint are breach of contract, copyright infringement and breach of good faith. The outcome of this litigation is bound to break new ground relating to who owns social media rights.
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An occurrence of cyber bullying at a Nevada high school is receiving widespread media attention. Early in October, a photograph began surfacing on social media. Reportedly, it was taken in one of the upstairs hallways of Durango High School, which is part of the Clark County School District.

Cyberbullying%2048885149-001.jpgWhat makes the photograph particularly notorious is its subject matter, a female student who has removed her clothing and is standing with the removed items covering her face. Rumors ran rampant in the days following the first postings of the photograph online. Some said the girl was a special education student. Others claimed that she had been coerced into removing her clothing while different witnesses said she had done so willingly.

Little is known about the girl because of Nevada privacy laws. This means that the girl’s name and whether or not she is in fact a special education student remain unknown. It seems a welcome piece of anonymity in a case that’s puzzling to other high school students who don’t understand how the whole situation came about.

What is clear in this situation is the school district’s rules against cyber bullying. Clark County School District, and Durango High in particular, have a reputation for taking a harsh view on instances of cyber bullying.

Thus far, the school and district have been relatively silent on the situation. They released a statement shortly after news of the photograph broke, saying that the “matter has our full attention.” Afterward, it was reported that a student, Gary Hoffman, was expelled after the incident. Hoffman appears in the photograph, but is not seen taking pictures.

Nonetheless, Hoffman’s family soon received a letter saying he had been expelled. The family appealed, noting that the student is merely in the photograph rather than being involved in inducing the girl to remove her clothing or sharing the photo on social media.

The Hoffman family prevailed in the appeal, but Gary won’t be taking the district’s offer to allow him to re-enroll in Durango. He’ll attend a different school while Durango officials seek to punish the perpetrators in the incident.