A Tweet may constitutes an assault and other electronic triggers resulting in litigation
In this age of voice mail and e-mail, it is relatively easy for an unhappy employee to leave a message for a supervisor and avoid a direct confrontation. As the Tracy decision [Tracy v Comm. of Labor, App. Div., 256 AD2d 800] indicates,* leaving a “vulgar and threatening message” on a superior’s voice mail will be treated as though the employee had made the offending statements in the supervisor’s presence. Tracy was denied unemployment insurance benefits following her termination after threatening her supervisor.
Nicole Black, Esq., writing in her LawBlog Sui Generis, reports a "tweeting event" that resulted in an individual being arrested and charged with committing a hate crime as the result of the tweeting. Ms. Black reports:
"Sometimes a tweet is just a tweet in the online world, and other times it can amount to an assault in the 'real' world. At least, that’s the difficult lesson learned by John Rayne Rivello, a Maryland man who was indicted in Texas and charged with the hate crime, Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, in violation of PC 22.02(a)(2)."** The Grand Jury’s indictment alleged that on December 16, 2016, Rivello “intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly caused bodily injury to Kurt Eichenwald, a disabled person…by inducing a seizure with an animated strobe image, knowing that the complainant was susceptible to seizures and that such animations are capable of causing seizures, and said defendant did use and exhibit a deadly weapon, to wit: a Tweet and a Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), and an Electronic Device and Hands, during the commission of the assault…And further that the Defendant did intentionally select said Kurt Eichnewald primarily because of the said Defendant’s prejudice or bias against a group identified by race, ancestry, or religion, namely: persons of Jewish faith or descent.”
Employers have been sued for alleged defamation of an employee founded on postings made on the employer's web site as the decision in Firth v State of New York, 98 NY2d 365, demonstrates.***
The Office of the State Inspector General distributed a report entitled The Best Bang for Their Buck, in which Firth's management style was criticized at a press conference. On the same day, the State Education Department posted an executive summary of the report with links to the full text of the report on its Government Locator Internet site.
As characterized by the Court of Appeals, the central issue in Firth's appeal concerned how "defamation jurisprudence, developed in New York courts in connection with traditional, i.e., printed, mass media communications, applies to communications in a new medium -- cyberspace -- in the modern Information Age" insofar as the statute of limitations for bringing such a law suit is concerned.
Other examples of such types of litigation include Murphy v Herfort, 140 A.D.2d 415, litigation resulting from communications between administrators, while Missek-Falkoff v Keller, 153 A.D.2d 841, is an example of a case in which one employee sued another employee claiming that the contents of a memorandum from the second employee to a superior concerning a "problem" with the coworker constituted libel.
Allegations of defamation may also arise following an employee's former employer supplying information to a prospective employer concerning the individual in response to a request for "references." Buxton v Plant City, 57 LW 2649, provides an example of this type of complaint.
** Ms. Black's article is posted on the Internet at: