Fitness Facebook Faux Paus

I don’t always get the chance to use alliteration, so I couldn’t resist here. But what I’m talking about is a federal case from Minnesota that a former employee filed against LA Fitness. The former employee, a Native American, alleged that LA Fitness discriminated against him when it terminated his employment. But the complaint contained 8 other counts in addition to the discrimination claim. Two of those counts – invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress – arose from the fact that LA posted this message on its Facebook page:

“For those commenting and speculating

about our group fitness coordinator/trainer who isn’t there anymore

– first, shame on you for gossiping about a man’s career, and the

decisions of his supervisors on an open forum. Second, my

understanding as one peripherally aware of the decision, it had nothing to do with his abilities as an instructor. That wasn’t the

extent of his job though, and some serious HR/Administrative issues

arose surrounding his other responsibilities and parting was the

decision. That is all that needs to be said.”

The good news for LA is that the court dismissed the complaint, including the two “Facebook” counts. It found that the post didn’t concern the kind of intimate details that need to be disclosed to support a privacy claim. And it concluded that in posting the note, LA didn’t act in an “extreme” or “outrageous” manner. Of course, that good news comes with a price – lawyers charge fees to respond to federal complaints. So the real win is to avoid a lawsuit in the first place. I asked my partner/employment guru Dan Burke what he thought about LA’s decision to post the note on Facebook. Here’s what he said: “LA Fitness needlessly exposed itself to potential legal claims and bad PR by allowing one of its managers to discuss the circumstances of a former employee’s termination with customers on its Facebook page. The customers had no legitimate ‘need to know’ the details surrounding the termination; the ‘desire to know’ in this case does not equate to the ‘right to know.’” Good point. And employers who are thinking about posting on Facebook any information about an employee (and maybe especially a former employee) probably ought to think twice. Winning a case is great. Not getting sued in the first place is better.