Photo: Nik Shuliahin
We’ve written before about how flirting on LinkedIn is never, ever appropriate, but our imaginations failed to capture just how many boundaries can be crossed on the professional networking platform.
Bloomberg reported that “a mid-level financial industry professional” filing as Jane Doe claimed that a banker trying to recruit her on LinkedIn sent her sexual messages— including a photo of his genitals. The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. These messages were reportedly sent from the banker’s corporate account, no less. Doe said she received the photo the day she got engaged.
In the lawsuit, Doe, the employee at a California Fortune 500 company reportedly says that banker is a managing director at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, the investment-banking unit of SunTrust Banks. Because the banker used his corporate account, Doe says that his workplace is to blame, meaning they should be held accountable for his actions.
Now, there’s one main thing to be decided upon— if “LinkedIn truly is an extension of the workplace” or not, the publication says.
According to Bloomberg, “the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent retention and supervision.”
SunTrust told Ladders that the man is no longer with the company.
So how did things even get to this point?
The banker and Doe had met while working on deal together, according to the lawsuit, and then talked on LinkedIn from December 2015 to March 2017, sending “several dozen messages” back and forth. While the discussion started as one about job opportunities, the banker, who initiated the conversation, started sending inappropriate messages to Doe. They started with “so what are you doing up so late?! Here’s my number if you wanna play,” and advanced until the banker sent her the picture of his genitals. When she ignored it, he replied, “ugh, I guess I screwed up :disappointed: bummer dude.” ”
“It’s already hard enough being a female in this sector. To be treated as such after working so hard is diminishing…it’s insulting, to say the least. I fear, if I bring forward this complaint, it could very well be construed as a limiting factor in what I do for a living. At the same time, if I sit quietly, it eats away at me,” Doe told Bloomberg.
Bloomberg points out that LinkedIn users can flag conversations, report and block others on the site, and the site said members can be prohibited from using the platform. But Doe told the publication in a phone interview that she couldn’t find a way to block the banker on the LinkedIn app after the photo incident.
Where SunTrust stands
Doe’s attorney reportedly told SunTrust about what the banker had allegedly done in a letter last month. But SunTrust’s lawyer said “she was ‘perplexed'” about why the company’s legal team would be held accountable for his actions on his professional account to Doe’s attorneys, the complaint reportedly says. She said that what he may have done was “outside the course and scope of his employment.”
But before the lawsuit was filed, a spokesman for SunTrust commented in a statement: “We take allegations of this nature very seriously, do not condone harassing conduct and take appropriate actions as warranted…Once we were made aware of the allegations, we began an investigation that is ongoing.”
“No one should be subject to such behavior. We do not tolerate inappropriate conduct, and have policies against such activity. Once we were made aware of the allegations, we promptly began an investigation. The employee involved is no longer with the company. It is unacceptable, regardless of whether the individual acted on personal time using a personal device and his own Linked In account,” Sue Mallino, Chief Communications Officer of SunTrust Banks, Inc. told Ladders in an email today.
LinkedIn spokeswoman Suzi Owen also commented to Bloomberg, saying that explicit communication like the complaint details “is prohibited and violates our user agreement, and we investigate and take action when violations are identified.”
The banker reportedly “didn’t immediately return requests for comment.”
Doe’s attorney, Ben Meiselas, an attorney at at Geragos & Geragos, told Ladders about what this means on a broader scale.
“I think we see an alarming trend among certain corporate executives who believe there is a different set of rules that apply in the digital space, and corporations turning a blind eye to sexual harassment through email, text messages and professional social networking,” Meiselas said.
“When we deal with these situations, we’ll alert the corporations and they’re usually take remedial measures and change policy in response to our effort, but here, SunTrust feigned corporate immunity under a perplexing theory reminiscent of outdated and despicable views of the workplace from the past,” he added.
Meiselas says that these professional networking sites are extensions of the workplace.
There’s also been an ongoing debate about who owns your LinkedIn contacts once you leave a job.
The moral of the story is: stay far, far out of “NSFW” territory when using the site. LinkedIn is for business, and business only. Use your business contacts wisely.