In the 1953 case Neiman Marcus v. Lait, Lait and other authors of U.S.A. Confidential published defamatory stories about three general groups of people (models, salesmen, and saleswomen) working at Neiman Marcus at that time. The authors did not specifically say names of employees but shared incriminating stories about groups of employees working in the sex industry. The case was brought to suit and the decision was ultimately settled that Neiman Marcus did not have a viable case because a group of individuals cannot bring a libel claim to suit unless the libelous statement makes specific defamatory statements against an individual member of that group. Thus, although the situation was unfortunate for all involved the claims were too broad – as so was the law.
In reality, situations similar to this case occur all the time. Sometimes they’re a case for the courts, but more often they’re a better case for a public relations firm.
In response to the prompt, I do not think that suing for the Twitter situation and its unfortunate effects on my career would be fruitful. First, I presume I would have to sue the university in which the PEP organization operated, which would likely be futile in itself. Furthermore, it sounds like the reckless individual that tweeted the statements on the PEP account directed them at a group of people specific to where he/she was and were not connected to me in any way except for by affiliation. My alienation from prospective employers came as a result of my affiliation with the organization and not from anything said about me specifically, so I do not think I would have a legitimate case to sue PEP.
Although that person’s actions had an unfortunate consequence that reflected poorly on my image, a direct connection between the tweets and my tragic unemployment situation cannot be proven. It could be argued by the other side that I interviewed terribly or something unflattering about my past was coincidently discovered by both organizations, thus making them uninterested in hiring me. The best thing for me to do in this situation would be to delete PEP from my resume and distance myself from its new racist and sexist image as much as possible. If anyone has a case in this situation it’s the restaurant staff that the comments were about, as they received the most direct effects of the libel suit.
Megan Dell'Amico, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2017 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the prompt:
You are an active member of a student organization called PEP and are currently the top candidate to land a position at PeR, a cutting-edge PR firm in Santa Monica, after graduation. Your friend who runs the PEP twitter account hits Margarita Monday too hard and tweets some very racist and sexual things about the restaurant staff. Very scandalous. In the morning, the tweets are picked up by Dine., a magazine that caters to all things food and drink in LA. The story goes viral and people start referring to PEP and its members as racist, sexist bigots. All of a sudden, PeR gives you the cold shoulder. Not only PeR, but also your fall back job, LMYou, shut you down.
Should you sue? Who? Would your case have merit?