Information on a social networking website can also be useful in defending sexual harassment cases.
District Court case in Indiana granted the defendants access to
portions of two plaintiffs’ Facebook and MySpace communications because the
plaintiffs claimed they had experienced “depression and post traumatic stress”
as a result of sexual harassment. The
court found that photos posted by the plaintiffs were discoverable because they
might reveal the defendants emotional or mental status.
Social networking content can also help to defend a sexual harassment case where the party who was allegedly harassed by coarse language or distasteful behavior has posted comments using the same language or photos depicting the same type of behavior that he or she has alleged were unwelcome in the lawsuit. In divorce cases, a party may be able to defeat a claim for alimony by proving through social media content that the spouse demanding alimony is cohabitating with another person. Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the scope of discovery and its limits. The
sexual harassment case articulated limits to the discoverability of social
networking communications in light of claims related to emotional and mental
The court held that social networking website content is not shielded from discovery simply because it is “locked” or “private” and that social networking site content must be produced when it is relevant to a claim or defense in the case. However, the court also held that the plaintiffs’ allegations of depression, stress disorders, and like injuries did not automatically render all social networking communications relevant. The court articulated several guidelines tailored to the specific allegations in the case. Plaintiffs’ counsel was directed to produce all content responsive to the defendants’ discovery requests that fell. Other courts have been more permissive and have not limited the scope of social networking information that must be made available to defense counsel. A trial court judge in
Pennsylvania ordered a
personal injury plaintiff to provide his Facebook and MySpace user names and
passwords to counsel for defendants and directed that counsel could have “read-only”
access to the entirety of the plaintiff’s accounts. The court also ordered that
the plaintiff not delete or alter existing information or posts from the
accounts. There are innumerable ways that social networking content can become
the key evidence that wins your case, but the strategy for obtaining the
information can be a tricky process.
In the next segment, I'll explain the process of how to gather information and make it useful to your cause.