Employer Has Obligation Not to Let Employees' Bulletin Board Be Source of Harassment
Description The New Jersey high court held that employees who wrote negative comments on a company electronic bulletin board about a female employee who was suing the company for sex discrimination could be subject to suit for defamation, and the company could be responsible for hostile work environment for not remedying such use of the bulletin board.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Electronic Bulletin Board; Workplace; Harassment
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Blakey was a pilot for Continental Airlines since 1984. In 1991 she began to file systematic complaints about the conduct of her male co-workers, such as placement of pornography in the cockpit and of vulgar comments made to her in work areas. In 1993, she filed a sex discrimination suit against Continental. In the midst of litigation, various male pilots posted derogatory and insulting remarks about Blakey's ability and attitude on the pilots' computer bulletin board called the Crew Members Forum, which is accessible to all Continental pilots and crew members. Blakey then sued Continental and the pilots who posted comments about her for defamation and harassment. The trial court dismissed this suit and the appeals court affirmed. Blakey appealed.
Decision Reversed. Although an employer's electronic bulletin board might not have a physical presence in the workplace, it might be closely related to workplace environment so that harassment on it should be regarded as happening in the workplace. If the employer had notice that co-workers were engaging in work-related patterns of harassment, the employer would have a duty to remedy that or be subject to a claim of hostile work environment. Co-workers who publish defamatory electronic messages about another employee could be subject to suit for defamation for making statements in apparent retaliation for her assertion of rights under the law against sex discrimination.
Citation Blakey v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 751 A.2d 538 (Sup. Ct., N.J., 2001)

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