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Another Facebook Case, Another Lesson Learned

There is no shortage of recent court rulings dealing with implications and consequences of social media. One of the latest comes from a New Jersey federal court and its holding should get employers’ attention. In Gatto v. United Airlines and Allied Aviation Servs., et al., No 10-CV-1090 (D.N.J., March 25, 2013), the plaintiff, Frank Gatto, was employed as a ground operations supervisor at John F. Kennedy Airport. He brought suit against United Airlines claiming that, while he was unloading baggage, a United Airlines aircraft caused a set of fueler stairs (owned by Allied Aviation) to crash into him. Gatto claimed that the resulting injuries rendered him permanently disabled.

After the suit was filed, the defendants made a request for documents and information that related to Gatto’s social media account. The request was based on defendants’ suspicion that Gatto’s Facebook posts detailed physical and social activities that would be inconsistent with his claimed injuries and damages. Gatto refused to comply with the request and a U.S. Magistrate Judge ordered him to execute an authorization for the release of his Facebook records and provide access to the account by disclosing his password to defendants.

Counsel for United thereafter accessed the account and printed portions of Gatto’s Facebook page. This action prompted Facebook to send a notification to Gatto advising him that his account had been accessed from an unfamiliar IP address. Upon notification, Gatto proceeded to deactivate his account. Facebook permanently deleted the data fourteen days later, in accordance with its company policy.

Defendants asked for sanctions against Gatto for purposely deleting evidence. So, how did the court rule on this matter? Did Gatto intentionally destroy the evidence of his social media accounts? Did the employer have a right to ask for it? Check back on Wednesday to learn about the court’s ruling.

Jaron Blandford is a member of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC and is located in the firm’s Lexington office. Mr. Blandford focuses his practice on civil litigation with an emphasis in all areas of labor and employment law. He can be reached at jblandford@mmlk.com or (859) 231-8780.

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