Attorneys for FLSA class-action defendant Gawker are opposing plaintiffs’ request to expand potential avenues of class notification via social media. Former interns of the blog site Gawker, a website that promotes itself as a “one-stop guide to media and pop culture,” filed a Fair Labor Standards Act class action against the company in June of last year. Mark v. Gawker Media LLC (S.D.N.Y.). The former interns allege that they were not paid for hours of work writing, researching, editing, and lodging stories and multimedia content that “was central to Gawker’s business model as an Internet publisher.” They also allege that Gawker provided no academic or vocational training to the interns during their time with the company. The suit seeks unpaid wages, liquidated and statutory damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees, and other relief.
Back in November, the district court approved the use of social media for providing notice of the lawsuit to potential class members. Mark v. Gawker Media LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155424 (Nov. 3, 2014 S.D.N.Y.). It found that most former interns, the targeted audience, likely used one form or another of social media and that the court only exercised control over materials prepared and sent by the parties, not the discussion that takes place among class members after such notice is sent. Id. The court noted, however, that before disseminating any notice by social media, the parties should confer and describe to the court any disputes they could not resolve. To that end, plaintiffs filed a letter with the court on February 11, 2015 attaching their social media notice plan. Mark v. Gawker Media LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155424 (Feb. 11, 2015 S.D.N.Y.).
Gawker responded to the letter on February 17, 2015. Mark v. Gawker Media LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155424 (Feb. 17, 2015 S.D.N.Y.). As a result of the court’s prior order allowing notification via certain social media, Gawker did not object to notifying potential class members via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Gawker, however, did object to the ways and means used on these sites to notify potential class members. Gawker requests that notifications via Twitter be limited to a single tweet or directed message asking potential plaintiffs to join the lawsuit rather than using hashtags such as “#fairpay” and “#livingwage.” If such hastags are allowed, Gawker asks they be narrowly defined, such as “#gawkerinternlawsuit.” As to notification via a LinkedIn group, Gawker asks that the group profile direct individuals to a copy of the approved notice, without further discussion of the case. Gawker does not want plaintiffs to be able to send announcements with reminders to potential group members. Gawker likewise argue the Facebook page “GawkerInternLawsuit” should be simply a page rather than a group because groups “provide a space for people to communicate about shared interests” and this went beyond mere notification. Furthermore, Gawker did not want plaintiffs to add prospective plaintiffs as “friends” because they are not proposing “friendship” in any sense of the word and such a request would be misleading.
Gawker objected to the use of the websites Reddit and Tumblr in their entirety. As to Reddit, Gawker argues that reaching individuals via this site would serve only to reach people who already have a vendetta against certain Gawker affiliated websites. As to Tumblr, Gawker alleged that Tumblr was not more than a blog and permitting plaintiffs to create a blog was equivalent to creating a website, which they had already done. Finally, Gawker requests that plaintiffs be required to notify it as any approved pages and accounts are created and permit Gawker access to them for the purpose of reading public posts.
The court has yet to rule on the legitimacy of plaintiffs’ request, but the entire controversy raises new issues surrounding class action notification and social media. Social media is more than just a website – it’s a way to contact people, in real time, and exchange information that can quickly be passed on to others. We often hear of news and information “going viral.” It could be that these potential avenues of social media notification will increase group size and public awareness of class actions in general. Watch for potential updates on how the courts handles these thorny issues.