Lorna Jane vindicated after two-year, $570,000 bullying case: Lessons for your social media policy

Legal experts are urging businesses to train their staff in up-to-date social media policies this year, after activewear brand Lorna Jane won a two-year legal battle in November against a former employee who claimed the company was responsible for the psychiatric impacts of bullying at work.

Former Brisbane store manager Amy Robinson filed a legal claim against Lorna Jane in 2015, seeking $570,000 in damages. The former manager claimed Lorna Jane was negligent and should be held responsible for her being bullied by a learning and development manager at the company, which led to psychiatric illness and a loss of employment and future employability.

The company came out swinging against the claims early on, posting a later-deleted Facebook post in 2015 defending itself against the claims and saying it had been “very disappointed” by what had been reported in the media about the case.

The claims included that Robinson was bullied and called a variety of names while working at the company over a period of 20 weeks.

Robinson also put forward two Facebook posts made by the learning and development manager, which she believed were being critical of her.

One of these involved the manager writing a status on Facebook saying: “What a day! It’s difficult to soar with the eagles when your [sic] surrounded by turkeys. Is it too late to pursue a different career?”

In deciding the case in November 2016, Queensland District Court Judge Gregory Koppenol found Robinson “failed to prove each aspect of her claim”, which he subsequently dismissed.

He found the Facebook posts had indeed been made by the manager, but that Lorna Jane should not be held liable for these for a range of reasons, including that the learning and development manager thought they were only visible on her personal Facebook page.

However, it was the process the company went through once being made aware of the posts that led to the judge finding the company had taken the right action.

“Once Lorna Jane became aware of the Facebook posts, [the manager] was immediately instructed to take them down (delete them), which she did. Lorna Jane also immediately (a) took disciplinary action against [her], (b) removed the DFO store from [her] control, and (c) arranged for Ms Robinson to report to [another staff member] and not to [the manager].

“In my view, those were the appropriate steps to take in response to Lorna Jane’s becoming aware of the offending Facebook posts,” Judge Koppenol said in the decision.

Social media policy and actions key

While the court’s decision also examined a number of other claims made by Robinson, including in relation to physical and psychiatric injuries, Director of Workplace Law Shane Koelmeyer says businesses can learn a lot from this case when reviewing their social media policies for 2018.

Koelmeyer says it was Lorna Jane’s actions in relation to its social media policy that convinced the court it was not liable for the Facebook posts in question.

“Lorna Jane had strict policies in place, and once they became aware of it [posts that could have breached the policy], the worker was immediately instructed to delete them,” Koelmeyer says.

Koelmeyer says small businesses can learn from the swift way Lorna Jane acted when it became aware of the Facebook posts, reflecting that if all staff are regularly trained about a company’s codes of conduct, it makes it much easier to enforce these the minute that concerns arise.

Social media platforms are always changing, so it’s critical companies regularly review whether their policies fit with how workers use social media.

“What is and isn’t acceptable is ever-changing in society, so it is important to keep reminding and training your staff,” he says.

Koelmeyer believes Lorna Jane was able to win the case because it could demonstrate clear action once a complaint had been made about a staff member’s social media use.

“Make sure that when it’s brought to your attention, you then act appropriately,” he says.

SmartCompany contacted Lorna Jane for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication. SmartCompany also contacted Shine Lawyers, Robinson’s legal representative, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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4 years ago

The employee’s get so much benefit of doubt.

The employer is guilty until proven innocent and not treated like a human being. The law is not supposed to work like that, but thats how Fairwork works.

Being in business is often depressing when you see what you have to deal with in many employees and actually try and make some money from their work. There are a lot of people not worth they are paid in this country.

You often get people who cannot really do all of their jobs. Education has also failed employers in the country. How do you deal with that and its more prevalent than you think.

The majority are not capable of adding to a companies structure and need that all laid out for them, let alone being capable of improving the structure

The stress and toll these toxic employees cause employers, maybe we should sue them for losses. Plus they bring their fellow employees down as well.

In Germany people know without the firm they dont have a job to finance their lives, and the health of the firm is important. here we have never really thought this way, and what little we thought this way is being eroded.

Employers take greater risks in employing people, than the employees taking risk in changing a job.

Why do you want to be an employer in this backward country.

Why should the employer have the poor life, long hours, and stress when people are paid good money and cannot do their job properly.

This country is sucking the joy out of being an employer and taking risks , as the rewards are getting rapidly less by the day for many.

Michael Ratner
Michael Ratner
4 years ago
Reply to  Jimmy55

Well said Jimmy.
And big congrats to Lorna Jane for having the courage of their convictions.
I can only hope that Lorna Jane are awarded costs as well.

Elle Marie
Elle Marie
4 years ago
Reply to  Michael Ratner

They paid for that ‘courage’ – they used money and power to squash a victim

No justice for anyone that doesn’t have the money to fight dirty like they can

4 years ago
Reply to  Elle Marie

There are lot of staff who stress the hell out of their employers and they are often people you cannot make any money from.

One day one of them will sue an employee for losses and it may wake a few of them up.

I dont know if you have ever worked foryour self but its far from fun. The ways its become in this country it will nuke the country.

Our debt will one day cause a Greece like situation here, and that will reset the public service side.

The employer is considered guilt from day one, and the employ also has it seems to put up far less evidence

Employers have to walk on eggshells, yet poor employees get away with so much.

In 5-7 years 50-75% of business have stopped, a lot of people who took the risks have blown a lot of money.

There is little respect in this country for the risk SME’s take.

Its going to help nuke this country that attitude. We have around 1.1 trillion in government and private debt.

Thats $45k for every man woman and child.This is a worse interpretation.

Getting staff to do what they were employed to do, on time and properly done is difficult here, as productivity is low.

Rohan Baker
Rohan Baker
4 years ago
Reply to  Jimmy55

Social Marxism in conjunction with the many valid points you raised is sucking the life out of this country.

Everyone is a victim except the poor idiot at the top, who owns the business to make a living and provide job opportunities to others, shoulders all of the blame.

You can stick a fork in Australia; we’re done.

4 years ago

The action was not swift – just saying

What this company got away with is incredible

You don’t have to look far to see just how many people have been affected by their poor business practices

3 years ago

Agree costs should be awarded to Lorna Jane although being awarded costs is vastly different to being able to actually collect them back. Especially since the taxpayer in Australia is often relied upon to fund living expenses of someone who has experienced a loss of future employability… although that may not the scenario in this instance. On a slight tangent and also perhaps not germane to this instance… perhaps legal firms who catch the scent of ‘deep pockets’ with the possibility of a significant % share in a relatively quick settlement (much cheaper than going to Court after all) and thus offer a ‘no win, no fee’ scheme should also then be responsible to cover the same % of any costs awarded against their client after a judgment against them? May put a damper on many of the more frivolous cases.