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Social Media Is Influencing Discrimination Cases, Says EEOC

Over the past few years, the media has focused a great deal of attention on the ways in which social media can influence the outcome of family law-related court cases. In particular, spouses seeking to uncover adultery, support claims of unfit parenting and protect assets have used the social media accounts of their former spouses as evidence in their cases.

However, social media is also having a profound effect on employment discrimination cases. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney recently told workshop attendees that the impact of social media on discrimination cases has "been on the radar screen of the commission for several years now."

In particular, when employers or potential employers access the social media information of an employee or applicant, this information cannot be used for illegally discriminatory purposes. Having accessed sensitive information, employers can still argue that they did not use their newfound knowledge to engage in discrimination. However, it is much harder for employers to back this claim up if they have willingly engaged in tracking down semi-private and certainly sensitive information.

At the workshop, the EEOC attorney relayed the following example, according to Bloomberg BNA, "supposing a job candidate posts information about an early pregnancy on her Facebook page, and a potential employer sees it. If the woman is not hired and brings charges claiming it was because of the pregnancy, the company will have a harder time arguing that the information was not a factor, he said."

As a result of changing technology, it is vital that employers refrain from using available information to discriminate against employees and applicants. It is also critical however, that employees and applicants understand that their social media information can be accessed by employers and may inform discriminatory behavior.

If you are concerned that your social media profiles may have influenced illegally discriminatory hiring or employment behavior on the part of an employer, contact an experienced attorney to explore your legal options.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, "EEOC Lawyer Advises Careful Navigation of Issues in the Workplace," C. Reilly Larson, Sep. 4, 2012

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