San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is asking a state court to protect the identity of an anonymous Glassdoor commenter who is being targeted by their former employer. EFF filed a motion to quash a subpoena for identifying information of its client after the cryptocurrency exchange company known as Kraken filed suit against several anonymous reviewers seeking to identify them based upon a claim that they breached their severance agreements.
Glassdoor is a popular website where people share opinions of their current and former workplaces. After Kraken laid off several employees, people left anonymous reviews about the company on Glassdoor. EFF’s client, J. Doe, shared their views on working for Kraken, which ranged from praising the “skilled, knowledgeable, and nice colleagues” to a personal reflection that “I personally had a deep sense of trepidation much of the time.” Doe took care writing the review, as Doe had signed a severance agreement promising not to disclose confidential information or disparage or defame the company. Kraken publicly responded to Doe’s review of the company on the Glassdoor site, thanking Doe for the feedback and wishing Doe the best.
However, in May of last year, Kraken changed course and began targeting Doe and other former employees. The company filed a lawsuit against ten Doe defendants, including our client, claiming they breached their severance contracts and seeking to identify them. Kraken also sent an email to former employees, demanding that they delete any reviews that were in violation of the severance agreement. Even though Doe believed they had complied with the agreement, Doe deleted the Glassdoor review.
“This litigation is designed to harass and silence current and former Kraken employees for speaking about their experiences at the company,” said EFF Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey. “Kraken’s efforts to unmask and sue its former employees discourages everyone from talking about their work and demonstrates why California courts must robustly protect anonymous speakers’ First Amendment rights.”
In the motion filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Marin County, California, EFF explains that courts have long recognized that attempts to unmask anonymous speakers not only harm the speakers’ First Amendment rights, but can chill the speech of others who may want to do the same but fear being unmasked. The motion asks the court to adopt stronger legal protections for Doe and other anonymous speakers, which require more than a mere allegation of illegal activity before the anonymity is breached.
“Kraken cannot show that Doe’s review was defamatory or otherwise unprotected by the Constitution, so it instead seeks to leverage its contract claims to identify, and potentially retaliate against, Doe,” said EFF Frank Stanton Legal Fellow Naomi Gilens. “Given Kraken’s tactics, we are asking the court to embrace stronger First Amendment protections for Doe and anyone else who is targeted for speaking out.”
For the full motion to quash in Payward v. Does:
For more on online anonymity and free speech: