Monday, April 12, 2010

Email Harassment - Jesse James Edition

The Jesse James-Sandra Bullock story continues to stay in the news, and why not? It has a celebrity couple, lurid affairs, allegations of Nazism, and a tattooed bikini model named "Bombshell." How could it possibly get any more interesting than that? If you said, "By adding employment law, of course!" Then congratulations, you're right!

In a Radar Online "Exclusive" the online entertainment site published emails between Jesse James and "mistress #5." She was an employee of James' West Coast Choppers who apparently sued him for sexual harassment. The story claims she settled "well into six figures," citing a "friend."

The emails are a little raunchy, but if they were in the midst of a consensual sexual relationship it may be hard to argue the emails were unwelcome. That said, I imagine settling a sexual harassment suit becomes a little easier when the alleged harasser is a celebrity... who is married... to one of the most famous actresses in the world.

There are two real-world lessons here (aside from the obvious - don't harass employees):

1. New technology provides a great way to communicate. Unfortunately, it also provides new opportunities for harassment whether by email as here, text messaging, or social media.
2. Include a confidentiality clause with teeth in settlement agreements!

Now, on point number 2, I would guess the agreement included one although I have no way of knowing for sure. Whether that will become an issue remains to be seen.

Image: Jesse G. James, American motorcycle manufacturer. Taken at the 2007 Scream Awards. This image was originally posted to Flickr by pinguino at This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.