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Appellate Court Rules Facebook Comments Not Enough for Harassment

In a nonprecedential decision, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a case alleging that American Airlines failed to protect Melissa Chinery from harassment that occurred on Facebook.

Chinery was a flight attendant for American who sought to become president of her Union’s local chapter. She claimed that a group of her fellow American attendants harassed her on Facebook, including through a group entitled “Wingnuts.” American had no relationship with the group on Facebook. The challenged postings included an image of a broken record, a reference to the election as “war” and threats to her about being “f**ked with,” mocking of her speech, referring to her as a “c*nt” and harsh comments about her physical appearance. Chinery complained about the posts to American and an investigation was conducted. In the investigation, her claims were found meritless. Chinery believed her concerns were not appropriately addressed and that the company could have enforced its social media policy against the posters. She sued for disparate treatment, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that the conduct alleged did not meet the standard for harassment. Harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the plaintiff’s employment and create a hostile work environment. In this instance, the conduct was found not to be severe or pervasive. Chinery argued that it was “inherently pervasive” because social media posts are “public and endure.” The Court did not find any support for the idea that permanence alone is sufficient. Additionally, although the posts were offensive, they were only “offhand comments and isolated incidents” which were not enough to objectively change the terms and conditions of her employment. American’s purported inadequate investigation and failure to enforce its social media policy also did not constitute severe or pervasive conduct.