Wisconsin’s New Social Media Privacy Law: What You Need To Know

On Tuesday, April 8, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed 2013 Senate Bill 223 into law (now 2013 WI Act 208) related to three categories of social media privacy:

1) employer access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of employees and applicants for employment;

2) educational institution access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of students and prospective students; and

3) landlord access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of tenants and prospective tenants.

The bill created Wis. Stat. § 995.55: Internet privacy protection. Over the past few years, I have heard horror stories from people who applied for a job only to have the employer open up that person’s Facebook page live during the interview after demanding to know the applicant’s username. I didn’t always feel too bad for these folks, since at a certain point you should know better than to post pictures of yourself in compromising situations for all the world to see. If your boss ended up seeing posts you wrote slamming the company or photos of you passed out on the frat house couch, that’s kind of your own fault.

But occasionally, I heard anecdotes of an employer actually requiring disclosure of the applicant’s username and password so that any privacy controls set by the employee would become useless. Even if you were careful with your online presence and made sure you only granted access to a select group of friends or family, your principal or your boss would suddenly become a part of that chosen few who could see everything. With an economy in which many people are still desperate to find gainful employment, I could imagine many people capitulated to these kinds of requests even though they felt extremely violated by the disclosure of such personal information.

It looks as if this new law is attempting to curb such practices and has made its target the areas in which power disparities are the greatest: your job, your education, and your landlord. The new statute prohibits employers, educational institutions, and landlords from requesting or requiring disclosure of “access information” for your “personal Internet accounts.” By using the verb “request,” the statute prohibits these entities from even asking you for this information. In other words, unless you voluntarily walk up to your boss and say, “hey you should follow me on Twitter- my username is DrinksOnTheJobJill,” your boss will have to resort to more intensive research if he or she wants to find out who you are in the online universe.

Employers may not request or require disclosure as a condition of employment, nor may they fire or otherwise discriminate against you if you do not disclose the information. Schools cannot make disclosure a condition of enrollment, nor can they discipline or otherwise penalize you for refusing to disclose the information.

Here are some of what I consider to be the most important highlights about this new law: Continue reading

Employment Discrimination: Trial Results in Jury Verdict Against the N-Word

A federal jury in New York awarded a plaintiff $30,000 in punitive damages and $250,000 in compensatory damages after the woman brought claims against her former manager who went on a four-minute tirade laced with use of the N-word. The unusual part of this decision: the plaintiff is black and so is her former boss.

In Johnson v. STRIVE East Harlem Employment Group, the plaintiff, Brandi Johnson, brought claims against her employer pursuant to 42 USC § 1981 and several New York City administrative code provisions as a result of being berated and called the N-word by her boss, Rob Carmona. She alleged that Mr. Carmona’s behavior– and more specifically his language– was discriminatory and created a hostile work environment. Some of the language used is reproduced in the 124-paragraph complaint, which identifies Mr. Carmona as an “Hispanic-American.” However, Mr. Carmona’s attorneys described him as a black man of Puerto Rican descent.

The defense argued that the N-word is a term of “love and endearment” when used by African Americans toward other African Americans. Mr. Carmona, who has a master’s degree from Columbia University, explained that the word has “multiple contexts” in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating anger, sometimes love. Mr. Carmona said he might put his arm around a longtime friend in the company of another and say: “This is my n—– for 30 years.”

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