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Legal response to MEC resignation email that sparked a social media storm

Sarah Bazaraa, solicitor within the Dispute Resolution Group for legal firm Pannone looks over the Kieran Allen resignation email from MEC, and the legal minefield that it may have created in making the allegations and widely circulating them, while including the names of colleagues at the media buying agency.

Kieran Allen’s e-mail of 25 September 2012 initially reads as a fairly standard resignation letter to his fellow colleagues at MEC Media. “It feels quite strange to be writing my leaving speech after 2 ½ years…I leave in a position where I can go and further my career in digital and for that I pay MEC great tribute”, he writes. However, what follows is a set of incredible allegations regarding the conduct of Mr Allen’s manager, which unfortunately for his manager have now gone viral.

The allegations made by Mr Allen are highly personal and accuse his manager of expressing discriminatory and prejudicial views.

A full transcript of Mr Allen’s e-mail has sparked huge social media interest with the resignation e-mail trending on Twitter.

The scandal caused by Mr Allen’s e-mail has since proved to be a hit with publications such as Loaded Magazine and a number of online and print publications. However, what may be considered sensational front page gossip by tabloid newspapers and across the social media world may cause irreparable damage to the reputations of all those involved.

Mr Allen, the former senior account manager at MEC, complains in his resignation letter of the treatment he allegedly received from his manager at the media agency, accusing him of gross misconduct. However, Mr Allen may not have done himself any favours by circulating his e-mail amongst his colleagues in circumstances where a complaint may be expected to be pursued through the company or statutory grievance procedures or via the employment tribunal.

The publication of any untrue statement of fact which has the potential to cause damage to the reputation of an individual or organisation may give grounds to sue for defamation.

Depending on the facts, a claim could in principle be brought against Mr Allen as the writer of the e-mail, as well as any third party publishers who repeat the allegations made by Mr Allen in light of the particular context in which his allegations are repeated.

Publishers should bear in mind that the law as it stands affords a claim in defamation in respect of each publication of an untrue statement of fact. Those repeating the allegations made by Mr Allen could therefore also potentially be put on notice of a claim in defamation, and should carefully consider how they may report on the story to ensure they do not adopt the allegations of Mr Allen as being fact.

The case is a timely reminder of the power of social media. An e-mail addressed to a specific group of individuals can now in the hands of the wrong people be instantly available to a global online audience. Clearly, the more people that read Mr Allen’s e-mail, the greater reputational damage which may be caused. Reputational damage may not only in this instance have been caused to Mr Allen’s manager and to MEC, but to Mr Allen himself as the aggrieved ex-employee. Having seen how far his e-mail has travelled, it may be that Mr Allen wishes he could now press the “recall” button.

Email image courtesy of Shutterstock

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