Glassdoor free speech case sets precedent

By Angela Underwood | May 10, 2017

SAN JOSE — Precedent has been set for free speech and internet-based employer reviews.

In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice Conrad L. Rushing and associate justices Eugene M. Premo and Franklin D. Elia, the California Sixth District Court of Appeal recently overturned a ruling to reveal the name of a former employee who left an anonymous review on Glassdoor Inc., a website that allows employees to post comments on past and present bosses.  

“Glassdoor disrupted the way people look for jobs and empowered individuals to engage in open dialogue about the workplace," Samantha Zupan, a Glassdoor spokeswoman, told the Northern California Record. "Where one chooses to work is a critically important life decision. A key reason our platform works is because anonymity allows workers to be honest and transparent without fear of intimidation and retaliation from employers.” 

Chief counsel for the suit was Tom O’Brien, who was assisted by Bill Frimel, Chris Edgar and Rebecca Epstein of Seubert, French, Frimel & Warner LLP. The attorneys defended Glassdoor against Machine Zone Inc. (MZ), a privately-owned technology company that claimed breach of confidential contract when a former employer posted an anonymous review on Glassdoor.

After Glassdoor denied to reveal the identity of the employee, MZ went to court.

“Protecting anonymous free speech is paramount, as without anonymity workers are far less likely to share their true opinions, compensation and other important information about their job that can help others, including employers,” Zupan said.

The employee posted the offending review on Glassdoor in June 2015 and titled it "Scandal." The review listed pros—free food, massages, large office—followed by cons, which included an unfavorable work-life balance and allegations that MZ spread false financial and product translator information.

Glassdoor reported on the win on its blog, specifically noting the three precedents set. 

The first is that “Glassdoor has standing to assert the First Amendment interests of our members while maintaining their anonymity.” The second “extends California’s legal test applicable to the question whether to allow a defamation plaintiff to unmask the identity of an anonymous speaker to any claim implicating anonymous free speech. Lastly, “the Glassdoor test also requires that anyone seeking to obtain the identity of an anonymous speaker must clearly identify, on the record, the specific statements that are claimed to be actionable.”

“We are transforming the way people search for jobs and helping to inform their perceptions of companies,” Zupan said. “We believe by protecting the rights of people to make anonymous free speech online, we are contributing to a better work experience for everyone.”

According to the company blog, Glassdoor will continue to support the passage and public dialogue of Federal Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation legislation, encourage the National Labor Relations Board to mandate employers correct unlawful contracts and effectively communicate an employee’s Fourth Amendment rights.

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California 6th District Court of Appeal Machine Zone Inc.

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