“Oh, holy hell.”
That was my response to reading the complaint in Gilbert v. Indeed, et al. Yes, that Indeed.
The case involves allegations by Taylor Gilbert, a young, female account representative, that:
- A manager raped her
- Male coworkers continuously harassed her
- Sexual relationships occurred regularly with managers as a means toward being promoted
- The company repeatedly discriminated against based on her PTSD, depression, and other health conditions, resulting in her failure to be promoted and Indeed’s failure to provide her reasonable accommodations as required by law
The complaint is an incredibly hard read. For individuals who have suffered sexual assault in the past, reading it could trigger emotions and conditions.
For a lawyer, a complaint is always fascinating. There’s a lot strategy in it that often starts well before filing the document with the court. Typically, plaintiffs’ counsel will send a demand letter to the employer trying to resolve or settle the case before litigation commences. That appears to have happened here with many references to actions Indeed took in response Gilbert’s lawyer getting involved, including allowing her to work from home.
Gilbert’s lawyer also allegedly succeeded in getting Indeed to acknowledge that romantic relationships amongst staff and management were the norm. In February, Indeed allegedly sent a letter to employees “discouraging romantic relationships from impacting employment decisions such as promotions, raises, and evaluations.” Importantly, the letter said: “Please note: this change is being enacted on a go-forward basis effective March 1, 2020. The purpose is not to discipline anyone for what occurred previously.”
Let’s spitball for a moment. Why would an organization send a letter (or more likely, a notice of a new policy) like that if romantic relationships didn’t affect promotions, raises, and evaluations? Or if there wasn’t at least the appearance that these relationships affected promotions, raises, and evaluations?
Another part of a complaint’s strategy is to get the public and press to pay attention. A plaintiffs’ lawyer does this by using detail. And this complaint has no lack of detail.
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The complaint describes the rape of Gilbert in excruciating, horrific detail, down to the location of a used condom, a rape kit, and a still-open criminal investigation by the Stamford, Conn., police. These details have me wondering why Indeed would let this complaint get filed in court for the world to see.
This complaint was drafted to hurt Indeed’s business. It may or it may not. Indeed’s customers are recruiters, HR professionals, and business owners desperate to find good people. While HR’s reputation isn’t sterling when it comes to harassment, good HR professionals want nothing to do with harassment and work hard to stop it. So, will they continue to do business with a job site that has just been served with a graphic, public rape and harassment complaint? Or, did Indeed just think no one would notice given, ya know, the pandemic and systemic racism dominating the news now?
It is true that the allegations have not yet been determined by a court or a jury, but everyone should know this: When we lawyers draft complaints like the one filed by Gilbert, we have an ethical obligation to tell our clients’ truth. If we lie, we can lose our licenses, so we put a lot on the line, too.
Indeed will get its chance to defend itself and its managers. We don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be. But this case presents a fork in the road for recruiters and HR.