You’ve left a company that you have legitimate grievances against. As thousands of others do, you go to Glassdoor to leave what you believe is a fair and accurate appraisal of your work experiences at the company. A short while later, you’re notified that your former employer has taken court action to out you, claiming your review breached the company’s severance agreements.
But this is no hypothetical nightmare; it’s what no fewer than 10 former employees of cryptocurrency exchange company Kraken are facing. In a blog post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says it has taken on representation of one of Kraken’s former employees, whom company is allegedly trying to out via legal measures. As the EFF explains:
After Kraken laid off several employees, people left anonymous reviews about the company on Glassdoor. EFF’s client, J. Doe, shared their views on working for Kraken, which ranged from praising the “skilled, knowledgeable, and nice colleagues” to a personal reflection that “I personally had a deep sense of trepidation much of the time.” Doe took care writing the review, as Doe had signed a severance agreement promising not to disclose confidential information or disparage or defame the company. Kraken publicly responded to Doe’s review of the company on the Glassdoor site, thanking Doe for the feedback and wishing Doe the best.
The thing is, in the months that followed, Kraken decided to take a different approach than thanking former employees for their feedback: The company filed a lawsuit against 10 former employees claiming they breached severance agreements by leaving the Glassdoor reviews and have asked the court to subpoena information from Glassdoor so they could find out who the employees are.
The EFF, which is representing one of the defendants, claims such actions violate the employee’s First Amendment rights and can serve to silence others who want to speak out honestly against their former employers. Further, the EFF says Kraken can’t show that their former employee’s review was defamatory, alleging Kraken itself is pursuing the litigation to harass former employees. As EFF Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey says:
This litigation is designed to harass and silence current and former Kraken employees for speaking about their experiences at the company. Kraken’s efforts to unmask and sue its former employees discourages everyone from talking about their work and demonstrates why California courts must robustly protect anonymous speakers’ First Amendment rights.
The EFF’s full motion to quash Kraken’s suit can be viewed here. If the EFF is unsuccessful in its challenge, it could set a troubling precedent for anonymous employee reviews, leading to a nightmare scenario for employees who air grievances online under the understanding that they will remain anonymous.
We reached out to Kraken for comment and will update this post if we hear back.
This is by no means the first case of its kind. A spokesperson for Glassdoor says courts usually rule in favor of protecting anonymity, and that it has been successful in more than 100 such cases.
“Glassdoor fights vigorously to protect and defend the rights of our users to speak freely and anonymously about their opinions and experiences at work, without fear of intimidation or retaliation,” the company said. “Glassdoor has litigated for many months to fight Kraken’s subpoena seeking to obtain the anonymous identities of users who left reviews about the company, and supports EFF’s efforts on behalf of its J. Doe client.”
Update: Kraken’s co-founder and CEO Jesse Powell responded to our request for comment with the following:
“In the cryptocurrency industry, security and reputation are paramount. Like its peer companies, Kraken uses confidentiality and severance agreements to protect the platform’s security and its reputation. In those agreements, each side receives something. The former employee at issue here would like to benefit from the agreement without upholding his or her side of the bargain. We welcome employee feedback, but we won’t tolerate double-dealing.”
This story has been updated with a response from Glassdoor and Kraken.