A few hours ago, the staff at Jezebel – a site that self-describes as being “a general interest women’s website” – banded together and posted an essay entitled “We have a rape gif problem and Gawker Media won’t do anything about it.” As the essay explains:
for months, an individual or individuals has been using anonymous, untraceable burner accounts to post gifs of violent pornography in the discussion section of stories on Jezebel. The images arrive in a barrage, and the only way to get rid of them from the website is if a staffer individually dismisses the comments and manually bans the commenter. . . This weekend, the user or users have escalated to gory images of bloody injuries emblazoned with the Jezebel logo.
As horrifying as this is, it gets worse – the person or people behind this are now bragging about their actions on other websites. This bragging makes a sick sort of sense in light of the fact that the perpetrators have been getting away with it for months.
Apparently, Gawker leadership has not taken the necessary and possible steps to protect its employees – months into knowing about this problem and months into being asked for help by its employees. That likely means that Gawker leadership is now responsible for violating laws designed to protect employees against sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. As a federal district judge explained all the way back in 1997: “According to the EEOC Guidelines, ‘an employer may . . . be held responsible for the acts of non-employees, with respect to sexual harassment in the workplace, where the employer (or its agents or supervisory employees) knows or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate or appropriate corrective action.'” (That’s Kudatzky v. Galbreath Co., No. 96 Civ. 2693, 1997 WL 598586, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 23, 1997) (emphasis added) for those of you law folks who are interested). In fact, there is plenty of law that explains inaction can expose a company to just as much liability as if the company itself were the ones engaged in the underlying bad acts. Courts continue to rule this way.
In short, at first glance, Gawker appears to be breaking the law (federal, state, and local) and discriminating against its employees at Jezebel.
And for what? The ladies at Jezebel break it down eloquently:
In refusing to address the problem, Gawker’s leadership is prioritizing theoretical anonymous tipsters over a very real and immediate threat to the mental health of Jezebel’s staff and readers. If this were happening at another website, if another workplace was essentially requiring its female employees to manage a malevolent human pornbot, we’d report the hell out of it here and cite it as another example of employers failing to take the safety of its female employees seriously. But it’s happening to us. It’s been happening to us for months. And it feels hypocritical to continue to remain silent about it.
Gawker Media’s (in)action here is disgusting – the ultimate form of corporate cowardice. In contrast, the women of Jezebel have done something incredibly brave in bonding together to speak truth to power. Unfortunately, it is usually up to employees to hold their employers accountable. Maybe this public shaming will work (can we start a #ShameOnGawker campaign?). And whether it does or doesn’t, the women at Jezebel may very well be able to up the ante by taking the matter to court.