When sending a text message, one of the many things lost in translation is inflection. Words, by their very nature, lend themselves to interpretation. Not only is it harder to communicate via text, it is harder to get a feel for the meaning behind what people are saying. If we know the person well, that is one thing. When texts are shared between coworkers, that can be quite different.
Consider all the cues that we rely on to interpret the words of someone speaking to us. We key in on facial expressions, a tone of voice, and which words are emphasized to glean bits of meaning that otherwise would fly under the radar.
While text messages offer us none of the above, what they do offer us – emojis – can be every bit as tricky to make sense of. What is worse is that they are becoming more and more the subject of conversation in sexual harassment lawsuits.
Murdoch v. Medjet Assistance
One case of emojis ultimately destroying a sexual harassment claim came in the suit of Darlene Murdoch v. Medjet Assistance. Murdoch accused a male supervisor of sexual harassment. She further says that she was fired as a result of reporting the unwanted behavior. However, an Alabama federal judge cited Murdoch’s use of a smiley face emoji in a message to the defendant as a primary reason for dismissing her lawsuit.
The smiley face, of course, was not the only piece of evidence that Medjet Assistance was able to provide the court. Defense attorneys were able to show that Murdoch referred to the defendant as “my dear” and on at least one occasion, hugged the defendant. These three things taken together formed the basis for dismissing the case.
While emojis may be finding their way into sexual harassment lawsuits, it is hard to say if they are having a major impact. Some recent cases involving emojis did not require emojis to make the case. They did, however, add credence to the claim.
In the case of Murdoch v. Medjet Assistance, key issues relating to the timeline of said hugs, emojis, and terms of endearment can be more important than their existence alone. For instance, at what point did Murdoch file a claim of sexual harassment against her supervisor, and when did these individual events occur relative to her complaint?
The lone issue then, is did Medjet Assistance terminate her employment because she filed the complaint? If they did, would she need to prove that the supervisor’s conduct rose to the level of sexual harassment?
What to do if You are the Victim of Unwanted Advances
The moral of this story, whether the judge made the correct decision or not, is for those who are feeling harassed or are the subject of unwanted advances to not mix signals by responding with emojis that convey positive feelings. Indeed, reciprocating any of the unwanted attention can and will be used against you by the defense.
If you feel that you were retaliated against by your employer for reporting sexual harassment, or that your employer is not doing anything about a situation that is making you uncomfortable, then you have a right to sue. Call HKM Employment Law of Kansas City at 816.607.4691 and we will help you make your case in court.