Court Rejects Content Moderators’ Lawsuit Over Traumatic Work–Garrett-Alfred v. Facebook
I’ve heard many tragic stories from content reviewers about the personal challenges associated with their jobs, both during and after employment. As heartbreaking as those stories are, it’s never been clear to me what legal remedies might apply to those situations. This ruling emphasizes that point.
This lawsuit involves Facebook’s outsourcing of content moderation operations to Cognizant, which operated facilities in Arizona and Florida. The workers at these operations allege that they suffered harm from their work. The court rejects their claims:
Fraudulent Concealment. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants didn’t warn them of the hazards of seeing harmful content. The allegations didn’t clear the Rule 9 requirements for pleading fraud:
Plaintiffs do not allege specific information related to the dangers of content moderation that Cognizant withheld like, for example, safety reports. And “bare contentions” that Cognizant concealed from the Plaintiffs the dangers of content moderation are not enough, particularly when those allegations fail to identify who should have warned them, when they should have been warned, and where they should have been warned.
Plus, the plaintiffs alleged that it was well-known that viewing graphic images was harmful, which conflicts with their allegations of concealment. The plaintiffs will get another chance to plead this claim.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress. The plaintiffs cannot show the requisite physical injury from their psychological trauma.
Unfair Competition (Florida DUTPA). These claims do not permit recovery for personal injury, and any allegedly misleading information was directed at employees, not consumers.
There are similar lawsuits by other content moderators, and this ruling is not the final word. Still, I was mildly surprised by how little traction this lawsuit got given the serious concerns raised by the plaintiffs.
Case citation: Garrett-Alfred v. Facebook, Inc., 2021 WL 1946699 (M.D. Fla. May 14, 2021)