You’ve got mail—and you might have a lawsuit if your e-mails are too casual — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

You’ve got mail—and you might have a lawsuit if your e-mails are too casual

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Office Communication,Workplace Communication

E-mail—often quick and informal—is the standard for most business communications these days. But if you’re too casual in the way you word e-mails, you could wind up in lots of legal trouble, as the following case shows.

Recent case: Raymond Geiger worked for Tower Automotive until he was terminated in a reduction in force when the company filed for bankruptcy. Geiger was 62 years old and suspected age discrimination was the main reason he was cut, while others kept their jobs or got new positions. He sued.

During discovery, the company had to turn over e-mails relating to the case, including a back-and-forth discussion about whether Geiger’s termination might result in an age discrimination lawsuit. One such e-mail about Geiger included the comment, “I just cannot shake this feeling that we’re doomed.” Geiger’s attorneys said the “doomed” comment must have been a reference to a potential age discrimination lawsuit.

The company contended that the e-mail author was really referring to the company’s future, not Geiger’s potential lawsuit.

Eventually, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, but only after the company had incurred big legal bills. Had there been no ambiguous and casual e-mails, the case probably would have been tossed out much sooner. (Geiger v. Tower Automotive, No. 08-1314, 6th Cir., 2009)

Final note:
Consider using the telephone to convey potentially sensitive information. It’s private, the conversation can’t be forwarded—and there’s no way to subpoena a phone call.

Leave a Comment