In the fall of 2011, I posted about a Disneyland employee, Korin Rodriguez, who filed a class action lawsuit against Disney alleging Disneyland violated California law by not providing cast members with seats. Ms. Rodriguez recently voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit after Disney’s attorneys found some rather interesting evidence (which I’ll discuss a little later).
While most states have rules which require employers to provide rest periods for employees, California’s labor rules require employees “be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” In defending Rodriguez’ lawsuit, one of Disney’s arguments was that most Disneyland employees held jobs which did not reasonably permitted the use of seats.
I should remind readers that Rodriguez tried to bring the lawsuit as a class action. The proposed class, as Disney colorfully described it, was a “sprawling class comprising thousands of current and former” employees who worked at the Disneyland Resort. (Of course, in the “real world” if an employee wants a chair they ask for it and most reasonable employers will give it. But reality has little to do with the Fantasyland of Disney class actions.)
Because Rodriguez wanted to represent a class, Disney had the right to show that Rodriguez could not adequately represent the non-present class members. In other words, if Rodriguez’ job staffing an outdoor vending cart didn’t “reasonably permit the use of seats” then she couldn’t represent a class of employees whose jobs might actually have permitted them to sit at times.
In order to prove its contentions, Disney sent Rodriguez’ lawyer a series of questions which, under the court’s rules, Rodriguez had to answer under oath. (Disney likely knew exactly what its employees’ jobs entailed, but when you defend litigation, it is golden to have the other side provide evidence that supports your contentions.)
Rodriguez, however, responded to Disney’s questions by uniformly saying she didn’t have anything responsive. Undeterred, Disney’s attorneys did something quite clever, they searched Rodriguez’ public Twitter posts and, based on what they found, asked the court to impose sanctions.
It turns out that not only had Rodriguez regularly Tweeted about her work, she posted several unflattering comments about guests (for which Disney apparently disciplined her) and, the icing on the cake, posted that a pedometer she wore for two days at work recorded over 14,000 and 28,000 steps (2,000 steps is roughly equal to a mile).
Here are some examples of Ms Rodriguez’ twitter posts which Disney included in their court filing (I’ve redacted her Twitter name, not so much for Rodriguez’ privacy but because it equated Rodriguez with a long-handled, flat-bladed gardening utensil):
Disney’s court filing pointed out that Rodriguez failed to produce these tweets despite Disney’s requests and asked the judge to sanction her and her lawyer. After a conference, the judge warned Rodriguez she (1) needed to provide a good explanation for having withheld the tweets, (2) that her counsel needed to show why he should not be personally sanctioned and (3) that Rodriguez needed to address whether the attorney fees Disney sought were a reasonable sanction.
There comes a point in litigation where the writing on the wall becomes clear. With Disney’s discovery of the damaging and embarrassing Twitter posts together with the judge’s threat of sanctions Rodriguez (and her lawyer) caved. Rodriguez agreed to dismiss her lawsuit and not file it again.
The dismissal won’t prevent someone else from filing a second “suitable seating” lawsuit but Disney has sent a pretty clear message to its employees (never discount the employee grapevine in any company) that it won’t take these lawsuits sitting down.