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Facebook comment leads to settlement

Although I don’t make it a habit of discussing cases that don’t involve claims under state or federal law, I came across an article while reading a London newspaper. The case was of interest because it seemed to be the perfect storm of what not to do.

Sarah Whitefoot, a model and former television personality, was hired to manage an upscale beauty salon that catered to the wives of wealthy footballers(soccer players). As soon as Sarah, started her job she began to see the signs of trouble. Her boss and owner:

1. Repeatedly invited her out for drinks via text message; 2. Bought her a glass sex toy to celebrate her first week on the job; 3. Constantly referred to her as “babe” and included kissing symbols in text messages; 4. Told her in one of her text messages, “If u look after me I’ll look after u”; 5. Took a mobile phone picture of her and sent it to his friends with the message, “Fancy a full massage?”; and 6. Described her on his Facebook site as a “nympho.”

Ms. Whitefoot, understandably, was upset by her bosses conduct and showed the text messages to his fiance, who, in turn, dumped him. The boss then fired Sarah by text message.

Sarah sued her boss and settled out of court for a sum in excess of “$10,000 pounds”( about $18,600.)

The Bottom Line:

This case not only sounds like a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim, but also sounds like a quid pro quo claim (“If u look after me I’ll look after u”). Since I don’t know the first thing about the laws in the UK, I will not comment of the settlement amount, other than to say, in Washington, this case could have easily resulted in a six figure settlement.

Text messaging and social networking sites are becoming increasingly problematic for employers and employees. Employees should be reminded through periodic training and through your handbook that text messaging should be limited to business related communication. In addition, your company should have a blogging and social networking site policy that is disseminated to your entire workforce.

Think of ways to educate your workforce. While we are all familiar with training and handbooks, think outside the box. Consider having your HR department sending out a broadcast email once a month that highlights one handbook policy and explains what is meant by that policy. My preference is to require the employee to acknowledge receipt of the email for record-keeping purposes. Another approach is to have your HR department, perhaps with the help of your legal counsel, highlight a court decision in your company newsletter. Discuss how your company handles claims of that nature, what policies are involved, and the resources available to employees internally.

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