A disgruntled ex-employee of my husband's has taken to Twitter and is accusing him of sleeping with a female co-worker. Both the co-worker and my husband deny the allegations. The ex co-worker is constantly tweeting obscene things about him, her and now myself (his wife). He has been using all of our names in the comments/accusations. He has also been emailing people making the same allegations using vulgar language and threatening additional actions. I am starting to fear for my safety. As we continue to ignore this person he is getting more and more aggressive - starting fake Twitter accounts trying to spread his allegations, emailing more people directly trying to get them to spread the information, etc.
What are our legal rights?
Your scenario provides causes of action of both a civil and a criminal nature against the ex-employee.
You say you are now in fear. If there is a credible threat of bodily harm in one of these communications, contact your local police department.
Otherwise, you are going to need to hire a lawyer to deal with this person. They might suggest beginning with a cease and desist letter. While a cease and desist letter has little legal force, it tells the other party that if they don't stop it could cost them legal fees if you do come after them.
You may want to discuss your situation with a lawyer in more detail. Most lawyers on Avvo, including myself, offer a free phone consultation.
You have the same legal rights you would have if she made these statements to other people in person or through print rather than through on cyber-space -- defamation is a good place to start. Keep in mind that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation. Also, within defamation there are other causes of action such as false light and invasion of privacy. Speak with a good lawyer - start by searching AVVO - who can handle the disgruntled employee for you.
You and your husband may have a number of remedies. You really need to speak to an attorney with experience and wisdom in this area.
While there may indeed be criminal violations (stalking, harassment, cyberstalking, some states have criminal libel, for example), you may not obtain much response from law enforcement or prosecutors. Or, even if you did, it may not be timely enough to benefit you in the immediate. Also, in some circumstances, this may not necessarily effectuate the best response.
The foregoing being said, if you feel for your safety, you should seriously consider filing a police report. In most jurisdictions, you may be able to file a report without pressing charges. But, again, you should discuss this with attorney who can advise on the best strategy.
Now, let us turn to my more familiar territory in the civil context.
Some jurisdictions will allow for orders of protection against stalking. Some jurisdictions do not provide this remedy for platonic situations, others do. This remedy can be limiting. It may not remove any content, it may put a stop to only certain forms of the content, and does not bring with it immediate damages. But, it happens to be a possible option.
Beyond the foregoing, there exist a number of possible civil claims. Defamation is one of them. In some states, there still exist the distinction between libel (written defamation) and slander (verbal defamation). Anything on the Internet (apart from perhaps audio recordings in certain contexts) will be typically libel defamation. You may also have a claim for false light. False light is not a claim within defamation. Rather, false light is a privacy tort (other privacy torts include intrusion upon seclusion, public disclosure of private facts, and misappropriation). While defamation and false light can go hand in hand in certain circumstances (particularly the Internet), they are separate claims and separate categories of claims.
You may also have remedies for stalking, harassment, and related torts. There may also be claims of tortious interference, depending on the effect of the statements. Should he be impersonating you or others, his conduct could give rise to claims under certain federal statutes.
When we represent our clients in similar situations (professional context being one of them), a demand letter can go a long way to obtaining the attention of the individuals. However, you need to discuss with your attorney what would most likely get his attention the quickest. This may involve deciding to simply file suit against the individual.
I would definitely preserve all of the information you can. Be sure to have the URL and the date on the PDFs you create in obtaining preservation.
But, contact an attorney right away - someone you determine to have the experience and the knowledge to guide you in the right direction. Then, the attorney can help alleviate some of the stress you feel from simply not knowing what to do.
If you want any further questions answered, do not hesitate to contact me.
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