Defending Your Rights: the Role of Social Media in Discrimination Cases

Apr 17, 2023

At Community Law Office, we understand the significant role social media plays in today's world, and we're here to help protect your rights in the digital age. As we start working with new clients, one of our first recommendations is to switch all social media settings to private. This is because, once a lawsuit is filed, the employer's attorney may scour your social media accounts to find old posts that can be used against you. However, employers can also slip up on social media, leading to potential liability. In this article, our expert attorneys explore the ways your employer might inadvertently commit harassment or discrimination. Read on to discover more, and if you think you've experienced employment discrimination, contact Community Law Office right away!

Social media has revolutionized how we communicate, connect, and share information. As we post about our personal lives, these details become accessible to anyone, including potential employers. Unfortunately, this ease of access has made it simpler for employers to discriminate against potential employees. Thankfully, legal protections exist to combat employment discrimination.

Employment discrimination occurs when an employer bases decisions on hiring, firing, or promoting an individual on protected characteristics like race, gender, disability, religion, age, or sexual orientation. An example of how a social media can lead to discrimination is when a hiring manager browses a candidate's profiles. If the manager comes across information that reveals the candidate identifies as gay, the hiring manager may refuse to hire the employee if he is homophobic. The business as a whole would be liable to the candidate through the doctrine of “respondeat superior,” which makes a company responsible for the discriminatory actions of decision-makers who have authority to hire, fire, or discipline others.

Another way social media can lead to a discrimination claim against a business is through the "cat's paw" theory. This legal concept allows an employer to be held liable for the discriminatory actions of a lower-level employee if the employer knew or should have known about the discrimination and failed to take appropriate action to stop it. For example, if an employee posts racist content online, and then goes to work an harasses his black coworker, those posts may be used as evidence to support a discrimination or harassment lawsuit. "Cat's paw" liability applies even if the discriminating employee is not a decision-maker.

Businesses often implement social media policies to avoid responsibility for discrimination and harassment. However, these measures aren't foolproof. In a recent federal case, an African American TV reporter sued her former employer for firing her due to a violation of the station's social media policy. The policy prohibited employees from responding to viewer comments on social media. The reporter admitted to violating the policy but demonstrated that other, white employees also violated this policy without facing consequences. The court ruled that the inconsistent application of the social media policy was evidence of discrimination, and Iowa courts follow similar legal reasoning when evaluating such policies.

We hope this article has given you greater insight into your rights and protections under the law. If you believe you have faced discrimination, contact Community Law Office today to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Our experienced legal team can help you navigate the complexities of the legal system and advocate for your rights.