Court says employee’s Facebook page on race stereotypes is fair game at trial

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Many times — most recently last Friday — I’ve discussed instances in which the 24/7 world of social media has cost individuals their jobs.

But, here’s a little twist. Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania federal court ruled here that a plaintiff’s Facebook page called “Yo know yo ass is from the da hood,” could be used by a defendant-employer to impeach an African-American employee’s claims of race discrimination and retaliation at work.

In seeking to exclude this evidence from trial, the plaintiff argued here that her private activities — even those her employer later discovered on Facebook — were not relevant to what she deemed offensive at work. (Remember that, to prove a hostile work environment, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the complained-of behavior offended her). The employer believes that it should be able to use Facebook posts she made and liked to impeach her credibility/sensitivities about racial jokes/comments co-workers made to her.

And the Court sided with the employer. Notably, the plaintiff herself joked about racial stereotypes on Facebook, oftentimes with people she didn’t know:

No doubt that some of the comments on plaintiff’s Facebook page are prejudicial to her case. Indeed, some of plaintiff’s comments on her Facebook actually support the claims she asserts in this case and plaintiff has used these posts to substantiate her claims…It also relates to whether plaintiff was offended by such conduct at work and whether this conduct forced her to resign since she herself participated in comments containing racial stereotypes and jokes on her Facebook page which were, in part, insensitive and demeaning.

How will this play out at trial? We’ll never know because the case settled. However, this decision is a reminder that social media continues to blur the line between work and one’s private life.

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