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Employees Fired For MySpace Comments Win Verdict

Published by on October 1, 2009

On June 16, 2009, a New Jersey federal court jury found in favor of two former restaurant employees who sued their employer when they were fired for posting comments about the restaurant and its managers on a MySpace account.  The jury awarded $2,500 in compensatory damages to Brian Pietrylo, and $903 to Doreen Marino.  By […]

On June 16, 2009, a New Jersey federal court jury found in favor of two former restaurant employees who sued their employer when they were fired for posting comments about the restaurant and its managers on a MySpace account.  The jury awarded $2,500 in compensatory damages to Brian Pietrylo, and $903 to Doreen Marino.  By stipulation of the parties, punitive damages were awarded in the amount of four times the compensatory damages.

The case is Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Group.  The court’s opinion on post-trial motions can be read here.  The jury verdict form is here.

The punch line?  More after the break.

Pietrylo was a server at Houston’s Restaurant in New Jersey, and he created a MySpace account entitled the “Spec-Tator” as a private place to vent about working at Houston’s.  Pietrylo invited other Houston employees, including Marino, to become members of the group and post comments related to the restaurant’s policies and management.  One of those employees showed the page to a Houston’s manager.  Other managers soon learned of the site, and one of those managers asked the employee for her password to access the site.  The employee acceded, stating that she did so because she was afraid of the consequences of not complying.  The manager then proceeded to access the site numerous times and printed out copies of the page contents.  The site contained various jokes and sexual remarks concerning Houston’s management and customers, as well as references to violence and drug use.  Pietrylo and Marino were subsequently terminated.

Pietrylo and Marino sued Houston’s, alleging violations of state and federal wiretapping laws, the state and federal Stored Communications Act, wrongful termination, and invasion of privacy.  The plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed the wiretapping claims.  After a week-long jury trial, a verdict was rendered in favor of the plaintiffs on the Stored Communications Act claims.  The Act prohibits the intentional access of stored communications without authorization or in excess of authorization.  The jury found that Houston’s had “knowingly or intentionally or purposefully” accessed the MySpace account without authorization.  The jury also found that Houston’s acted with malice, supporting a punitive damages award.  The jury did not, however, find that Houston’s had invaded the plaintiffs’ right of privacy, which required a finding that the Spec-Tator was a “place of solitude and seclusion which was designed to protect the Plaintiffs’ private affairs and concerns.”

So what is the punch line?  On July 21, 2009, the plaintiffs’ filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, currently pending before the court, in the amount of $123,270.

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