Porter Airlines has launched a $4 million libel lawsuit against the union representing 22 striking fuel workers for comments made on Twitter. Porter alleges the libellous comments against the airline were made by the strike co-ordinator on behalf of the union.
The Statement of Claim was filed in the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto in and seeks $3 million for general and special damages for defamation and $1 million in punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages. The lawsuit names the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 343 and its strike co-ordinator, Mary Stalteri, as defendants. According to court documents, Porter alleges libellous comments against the airline were made by Stalteri on behalf of the union through a Twitter account under the username @PorterStrike.
The airline alleges that it was defamed by a video depicting a fake crash with a Porter plane, a fake advertisement and comments it says were broadcast from the Twitter account between January 17, 2013 and April 8, 2013. Porter says the tweets used false and misleading information about safety protocols and training practices for the airline and its workers. Meanwhile, 22 employees who refuel planes for Porter Airlines are still off the job after walking out on January 10. In the interim, Porter has trained replacement workers to fill in for the striking fuel workers during the labour disruption.
Lessons for Employers
Employers are wise to monitor social media for defamatory remarks as the media influences the public. Defamation – damaging false remarks – unless stopped immediately can result in business loss and in some extreme cases the downfall of a company. Legal proceedings while costly can stop the further publication of false and damaging remarks. While legal proceedings protect corporate interests and business loss, employers must also consider that a legal proceeding, while effective, is also a republication of the offensive remarks, and give the public a further opportunity to consider what was published. Another option Employers should consider is whether there are grounds for a cause termination of the employee who made the offending remarks.
Lessons for Employees
Employees should remember that as “the truth will set you free” there is no harm in making accurate and true statements that can be readily supported by documentation. If an employer has suffered damages as a result of being defamed, which can happen very quickly and easily in the world of instant social media, that employer may be able to obtain a judgment against the employee who made the defamatory remarks for the amount of damages the employer suffered. If the objective behind the employee’s statements are to leverage the employer to provide better terms or pay, an employer is less likely to be inclined to do so after suffering damages. There is much to be said to influence an employer by “taking the high road.”
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