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My dog was bathed and groomed on Wednesday. On Thursday, I cooked a ham and left it to cool on the stovetop. There were workers in the house all day long and the dog was irritable and behaving badly. I went upstairs to check on work progress and heard a crash and a yelp and came downstairs to see my freshly bathed basset hound covered head to toe to belly in dripping ham juice with the broken glass roaster all around her (not to mention my ham). She was so shocked she didn’t know whether to lick the floor or herself. The groomer got a good laugh out of the story and at the miserable and greasy dog.
Then later on Thursday, I saw a story over at LexisNexis titled “In A Lurid Story Of E-Discovery And Ham, Magistrate Judge Tells Parties To Pay For A Forensic Expert To Sort Through The Data”. Coincidence? I think not. On the other hand, we do need to comment that while this is a light-hearted post, the potential traumatic impact of workplace sexual harassment and wrongful termination is very real, and not funny at all.
In this “lurid” tale of the HoneyBaked Ham company and allegations of both sexual harassment and retaliation–there are multiple elements to consider in the EEOC-filed class action suit against HoneyBaked Ham: social media, workplace climate, the emotional impact of victimization, pejorative labels, sexual harassment, retaliation, and what is private and what is not. HoneyBaked Ham wanted to assess the Facebook account activity of female members of the class action suit and told the judge they thought there would be relevant Defense information to be found via an e-discovery process on those Facebook pages. The judge agreed to the Defense request for e-discovery:
“Judge Hegarty determined that “there is no question [HoneyBaked] has established that the documents it seeks contain discoverable information.” For example, he pointed to a photo one of the women posted of herself wearing a t-shirt imprinted with a foul adjective-easily the most offensive term used to describe a woman-a term she says a HoneyBaked employee used to describe her. Also on her Facebook page, according to the judge’s order, this class member shared her financial expectations from the suit, her feelings about the loss of a pet and a broken relationship. She also described her positive outlook on life post-termination, her sexual aggressiveness, her post-termination employment, her sexual liaisons, her income opportunities, and sexually amorous communications with other members of the class. The list goes on. (Are you ready to close your Facebook account yet?)”
In brief, the judge appointed a special master to go through Facebook, social media accounts, emails, text messages, and so on to find any and all communications that might be relevant to the class action suit. A questionnaire was designed to focus the e-discovery so that not everything was reported simply because it was salacious. Whew. Does this mean there is privacy online after all?
Probably not. This is a cautionary tale. A veritable object lesson. And here is the lesson. Do not leave your freshly baked ham cooling within reach of an inquisitive and food-driven basset hound. And whether you work for the HoneyBaked Ham Company or elsewhere, do not post things on Facebook (or email them, or text them, et cetera, et cetera) unless you are comfortable with them being the subject of e-discovery at some point in the future.