Last fall four plaintiffs pushed LinkedIn into the spotlight, claiming the online networking site was operating as a consumer reporting agency (a background screening company) and was in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
The complaint alleged that information available through Linkedin’s “Search for References” feature constituted a consumer report under the FCRA. With just a few clicks, employers could get details about an applicant’s work history and even send private messages to former coworkers without the applicant’s knowledge.
The plaintiffs also alleged employers were making hiring and firing decisions based on the information obtained without the applicants’ consent, and that there was no way to ensure the accuracy of the references. The applicants were also allegedly denied the benefit of an adverse action notice that would have been required had the check been obtained in compliance with the FCRA.
LinkedIn attorneys argued that an employer could pick up a phonebook and find people who work at an applicant’s current employer, but information obtained that way would not be considered a consumer report, so info from coworkers online shouldn’t be either.
On April 14, 2015, a federal judge in the Northern District of California dismissed the case. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal said LinkedIn is NOT a consumer reporting agency as defined by the law, so getting info from the reference reports is not the same as running a consumer report. Also, in their defense, LinkedIn pointed to the fact that people create profiles on the site to share their information. In his dismissal, the judge wrote that LinkedIn was not using the data to create a consumer report, but rather to carry out the consumer’s desire to share their data with the business community.
LinkedIn attorneys say they are pleased that the court dismissed the lawsuit, but the judge did leave the door open for the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint. For now, LinkedIn seems to have avoided any action by the EEOC.
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