Are Glassdoor Reviews Protected Speech?

Are Glassdoor Reviews Protected Speech?

Writing for SHRM, Caryn Freeman looks at an effort to sue the employer review site Glassdoor:

Charles Lee Mudd Jr., principal at Chicago-based Mudd Law Offices, is representing Stahulak & Associates and Thomas Stahulak in a complaint alleging defamation, false light and tortious interference regarding reviews made on Glassdoor.

Mudd is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief for reviews posted on Glassdoor in December 2014 and February 2015. The reviews were about working conditions at the law firm. Mudd says there’s a balance between what is considered free speech and what is posted on the Internet … [and] the Constitution does not protect defamation.

So are the anonymous, sometimes highly critical reviews posted on Glassdoor protected speech? Freeman spoke with labor lawyer James R. Redeker about that, and he said that as long as their statements are true, employees are in the legal clear:

[E]mployees’ statements only lose protected status if they are “maliciously false.”

“So almost any way you approach this subject, as long as [the speech] involves terms and conditions of employment and as long as you’re dealing with an employee, an employer is really exposed,” Redeker said.

Not to mention how the publicity, by drawing more attention to the objectionable reviews and the employer’s response to them, could simply make the situation worse and further damage the employer’s brand.

In another piece for Bloomberg BNA in February on the same subject, Freeman noted that according to Glassdoor, “of the more than 500,000 companies that have been rated or reviewed on Glassdoor, requests for user identities represent a ‘very small percent.’” The company also said it has been able to oppose nearly all the subpoena requests it has received for that purpose.

Indeed, one such case was similarly resolved earlier this month when a magistrate judge in San Francisco decided he would not force the company to reveal the identities of users who left negative reviews about a Chicago design firm, citing “the potential chilling effect that disclosure could have on constitutionally protected speech,” according to the Recorder.