In this post, I continue my review of employment-law cases in which LinkedIn played a substantive role in the outcome of the parties’ dispute.
In the first post in this series, I discussed Freire v. Keystone Title Settlement Services, in which the LinkedIn profile of the plaintiff’s manager was argued to constitute evidence that two entities should be considered a single, integrated enterprise. In the second post, I discussed Steinberg v. Young, in which the court found that the LinkedIn profiles of 5 employees constituted evidence that the defendant was the successor entity of the company that previously had employed the plaintiff.
In this post, I discuss a case involving the LinkedIn profile as the basis for holding an employer liable for online comments of another party.
3. Agency Relationship
In Park W. Galleries, Inc. v. Hochman, the defendant filed a counter-claim against the plaintiff-art gallery, alleging that an individual, acting on behalf of the gallery, posted defamatory statements about the gallery on his blog. In response, the art gallery argued that there was no evidence to show that the individuals who made the statements were acting on the gallery's behalf. The gallery's CEO testified that individual was not and had never been an agent or employee of the gallery and that the gallery had never authorized the individual to speak on its behalf.
The test to determine whether there is an agency relationship such that an entity may be held liable for an individual's actions or statements is whether the principal has a right to control the actions of the agent. Under Michigan law, if there is any evidence to support the existence of an agency relationship, the question cannot be decided by the court but, instead, must be presented to the jury.
The court determined that there was sufficient evidence to support the existence of an agency relationship between one of the individuals when he made the allegedly defamatory statement. The evidence cited by the court was a posting on the individual's LinkedIn profile, on which he had identified himself as a "Consultant/Writer at Park West Gallery." In the "Experience" section of his profile, his profile included experience as a "Public Relations/Blogger/Writer" for the gallery. And, according to the gallery's website, the individual was editing a book to celebrate the gallery's 40th anniversary.
Based on this evidence, the court concluded that the individual could have been speaking on behalf at the behest of the gallery when he posted the allegedly defamatory statements on his blog.
No. 08-122471, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12488, at *15 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 12, 2010).
LinkedIn Lessons for Employers: Part 1 (Integrated-Enterprise Status)
LinkedIn Lessons for Employers: Part 2 (Successor Liability)