The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has held that a company's alleged use of an employee's Facebook and Twitter pages without her permission to post marketing messages that looked like they were written by the employee may be liable under the Illinois Right to Publicity Act and the Lanham Act for false endorsement.
In this case, the employee, Jill Maremont, worked for an interior design firm in Chicago. As part of her job, Maremont created a work-related blog that was hosted on her employer's website. She also frequently posted to both her Facebook page and Twitter, which both included her picture and were, according to her, personal accounts.
In September 2009, Maremont was in an automobile accident and was seriously injured. During Maremont's convalescence, her employer posted company messages to Maremont's Facebook page and Twitter account, writing posts that claimed to be from Maremont.
When Maremont found out about the substitute posts, she asked her employer to stop because, among other things, it made it seem like she was already back and work and her injuries were less severe than they actually were. However, the posts allegedly continued until Maremont changed the passwords to her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The court held that those allegations were sufficient to proceed under the theories of false endorsement and breaches of her right to publicity. However, the court dismissed the plaintiff's common law misappropriation of likeness claim, noting that the tort was replaced by the state's Right to Publicity Act, and rejected the plaintiff's unreasonable intrusion upon seclusion claim.
Full text of the court's opinion in Maremont v. Susan Fredman Design Group, N.D. Ill., No. 10-7811, 3/15/11, is available at Maremont v Fredman 110315.pdf.
This case deals with something employers should deal with in their social media policy - personal social media accounts. Like most other issues regarding social media, how a given employer deals with a given question depends a lot on the employer, its industry and its culture. Some businesses prohibit employees from having personal work-related social media accounts, while some encourage it. Consider what the right position is for your business, discuss it with your employees who are active in social media, and document the decision in your social media policy.