I’ll take “blog post titles that I never thought I’d be using
in 2022 ever” for $500.
On this blog, I’ve often said that employees may have freedom of speech on social media. But their actions can have consequences at work because there is no corresponding constitutional right to a job.
Last year, a video was posted to TikTok showing the CEO of a telemedicine company outside of a hotel engaging with a boy wearing a red dress. At times, the conversation became heated, with the boy telling the CEO to “F*** off” and “Get the f*** away from me.”
According to published reports, including this one from NBCNews.com, after learning about the video, the telemedicine company terminated the CEO from his position, effective immediately.
And that’s where Kathy Griffin comes in.
In late April, the former CEO and his wife sued Ms. Griffin in federal court in an action for “tortious interference, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and prima facie tort arising from the malicious, wrongful, unlawful, and intentionally injurious online harassment and stalking.”
According to the complaint, Ms. Griffin published this tweet via her verified personal Twitter account on April 26, 2021, in a campaign to harass the plaintiffs, “encouraging her followers and the public to ‘dox’ and shame [the plaintiffs], as well as pressure [his employer] into terminating [his] employment contract.”
The plaintiffs further allege that “Ms. Griffin also published other tweets…consistent with her malicious and intentionally injurious objective to engage in online harassment of [the plaintiffs].”
If you’re wondering why the former CEO, who had an employment agreement, is going after Ms. Griffin instead of his former employer, he can do both. According to court filings, he is arbitrating his employment separation with his former employer.
This is not the first time someone has named Ms. Griffin as a defendant in an online harassment lawsuit. Last year, the Sixth Circuit dismissed claims that some school students asserted against Ms. Griffin. The plaintiffs alleged that Ms. Griffin tried to dox them on Twitter after a much-publicized confrontation with a Native American at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
The court dismissed the earlier lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds.
Some of those same issues may resurface here. There may also be some substantive issues with the current case, namely, proving that Ms. Griffin specifically caused the company to fire the CEO or that she otherwise directly harmed the plaintiffs.
Does any of this impact a company’s ability to hold employees responsible for what they do on social media — regardless of how they learn about the online incident? The circumstances here are somewhat unique due to the CEO’s employment agreement. But, for at-will employees in the private sector, the general rule remains that they can be fired for no reason or any reason, including the actions depicted in the video.