The recent case of Rada-Ortiz v Espinosa-Vadillo is welcome news for employers and others dealing with the actions of a disgruntled ex-employee.
It concerned two employees of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Mr Espinosa-Vadillo, who had worked for the IMO for a short period, made various complaints to the IMO about Ms Rada-Ortiz who had been employed by the IMO for much longer. The IMO investigated and partially upheld the complaints. It took action against Ms Rada-Ortiz but Mr Espinosa-Vadillo was not satisfied. He set up four websites containing unpleasant allegations against Ms Rada-Ortiz, including more than 100 separate references to her ‘abuse’ and that Mr Espinosa-Vadillo had suffered as a result of her cruelty and abuse of power. The websites included photos of Ms Rada-Ortiz taken without her consent. Mr Espinosa-Vadillo went as far as handing out leaflets outside the IMO’s offices to advertise the websites.
Ms Rada-Ortiz did not learn about the websites until some months later, at which point she applied for an injunction to shut them down. Mr Espinosa-Vadillo tried to avoid the court proceedings being served on him and did not attend court to try to justify the contents of the websites. He did, however, take down the websites shortly after the court proceedings were issued.
Ms Rada-Ortiz’s application relied on the Protection From Harassment Act 1997. She argued that the continued publication of the allegations on the websites was a course of conduct intended to create alarm and distress. The court agreed. Although there was an element of truth in the allegations they had been exaggerated and sensationalised to an unacceptable extent. The court ordered that the websites be taken down.
This case follows the Law Society v Kordowski decision, in which the ‘Solicitors From Hell’ website was shut down and is a helpful reminder of the circumstances in which anti-harassment legislation can come to the aid of the victims of online bullying. With the explosion in social media and the ease with which defamatory comments can reach a wide audience it seems likely that this will become a path increasingly well trodden in future.