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Chapter 1. Beware Potential Perils > Smoking Gun E-Mail Triggers Workplace Laws...

Smoking Gun E-Mail Triggers Workplace Lawsuits

When employees write and send inappropriate or offensive e-mail messages, employers often land in court. Nearly 10% of large U.S. employers have had employee e-mail records subpoenaed, and another 10% have battled sexual and racial harassment and discrimination claims stemming from employees’ e-mail and Internet use.[11] Many people treat e-mail too casually, writing comments they would never utter aloud. Play it safe. Do not write anything to or about another that you would not feel comfortable saying face-to-face.

[11] American Management Association, 2001 Survey of Electronic Policies and Practices.

Real-Life E-Disaster

In litigation over diet pills manufactured by American Home Products Corporation, some of the most embarrassing evidence against the company came from internal e-mail. In one particularly damaging message, an American Home Products employee expressed dismay at the thought of spending the balance of her career paying off “fat people who are a little afraid of some silly lung problem.” The employee’s insensitive comment referred to a rare, but often fatal, condition some diet-pill users developed. Such an inappropriate e-mail likely contributed to the company’s decision to settle the case in a deal valued at up to $3.75 billion, the largest settlement ever involving a drug company.[12]


[12] Richard B. Schmitt, “The Cybersuit: How Computers Aided Lawyers in Diet-Pill Case,” The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 1999.


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