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How Embarrassing Lawsuit Details are Going Viral Online
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when lawsuits go viral

Summary: The federal electronic filing system is allowing sexually charged cases to go viral on the internet before a trial.

When federal judge James Robertson aided the inception of federal electronic filing, he lacked insight into where it would lead. “I don’t think any of us had any idea what the words ‘going viral’ meant when we rolled this out 10 or 12 years ago,” he said. But nowadays, social media can pick up on a given case, and popularize embarrassing details, as soon as they are filed, rendering a plaintiff or defendant notorious, before any legal proceedings take place, as a de facto vigilante system.


A former saleswoman from Zillow, for instance, filed a suit against her former employer regarding pornographic messages received from male colleagues. The internet attention the case gained, before anything like evidence had been applied, lead to a public relations crisis for Zillow.

“If I file a complaint and call a press conference and tell the world what the allegations are, and if those allegations are defamatory, I might get sued,” said Dan Siegel, the lawyer for Shannon Miller, a female coach who was cut from her job, while her male counterpart was not. However, if those allegations are circulated on the internet, no suit will arise.

The former Zillow employee, Rachel Kremer, found herself an internet celebrity. Her filing that said she had received graphic photos and was subjected to “sexual torture” gained incredible feedback on Facebook.

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“From the plaintiff’s perspective, it’s one of the great equalizers,” giving them ground against wealthy defendants, said Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer who has handled sexual harassment suits for three decades. But is this fair, does it help? “These cases are a mess,” said Katz.

Imagine that, internet smear campaigns may be biased and cloud justice?

“You’ve been accused of something without an opportunity to defend yourself” said Juan Monteverde, a Manhattan lawyer who received a call from his wife regarding an email she received of a complaint a younger colleague had filed against him that he coerced her to sex. Monteverde had not even heard of the case yet.

Not only could these cases lead to a defendant being socially judged before a fair trial, but they could also make some victims reluctant to file as well if they do not want online media attention or are afraid that their private plight will go viral.

Even a successful suit can render a client “the complainer, or the slut who allegedly slept with the boss,” through a simple Google search, explained Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor.

These are some of the travails that the legal system currently faces, and it must adapt to the new social setting, as always.

Is the capacity for a lawsuit to go viral a detterent to justice?

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News Source: New York Times


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