As the way people communicate with each other continues to evolve, courts and lawmakers have struggled to keep up with corresponding laws. Cell phone records, emails and Facebook posts are being pulled as evidence in more and more legal cases in Texas and across the country, even though some have grappled with whether this violates privacy rights.
In a federal employment law case that is currently underway, a judge has ordered plaintiffs to turn over their cellphones and Facebook account passwords to the court. Another party will then compile all of their text messages and Facebook posts to determine what is and what is not applicable to the case. Some legal observers have questioned whether this demand is lawful.
The case stems from a sexual harassment complaint filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of about 20 women who were allegedly sexually harassed at The Originial Honeybaked Ham Co. stores. They also claim to have experienced retaliation, including being fired, when they complained about the harassment.
The employer made a motion to compel the cellphone and password turnover after reading postings about the lawsuit on the lead plaintiff’s Facebook page. She reportedly wrote about how much money she might gain from the lawsuit, as well as her emotional state after various personal losses, information the employer says is relevant to her damages request.
After the third party compiles the list of texts and posts, the plaintiffs will be able to look over it and object to the production of the material. Nonetheless, some say that the request is too broad and the plaintiffs should only have to produce the information relevant to the case.
This area of the law is very complicated, and privacy rights remain somewhat undefined when it comes to cellphones, emails and social media. For this reason, anyone who is involved in an employment dispute–or any legal matter–might do well to refrain from commenting on the case whatsoever with these mediums. It can be important for people to act as if any information that is shared electronically may be discoverable in a legal matter.
Source: ABA Journal, “Plaintiffs in EEOC Suit Must Turn Over Cellphones and Facebook Account Passwords, Judge Rules,” Martha Neill, Nov. 20, 2012
- Our Houston law firm handles cases like the one mentioned above as well as a variety of employment disputes. For more information, take a look at our Workplace Discrimination page.