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Does Using LinkedIn Impair Your Job Prospects?

Kelly Anthony, Esq. | Deputy General Counsel

At least four people apparently believe it does. Within the past week, LinkedIn made headlines over a class action suit filed in the Northern District of California concerning a product offered to the social networking site’s premium account holders, which purportedly has cost the four named plaintiffs job opportunities. The product, called “Reference Search,” provides those members who purchase a subscription the ability to search for and, through internal messaging, contact individuals who may have worked with a potential job candidate—without that candidate’s knowledge.


In the class action complaint, the plaintiffs allege that while LinkedIn “pitches itself to consumers as ‘the one stop shop for your professional life,’” the Reference Search functionality allows employers to “anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based upon the information they gather, without the knowledge of the member, and without any safeguards in place as to the accuracy of the information that the potential employer has obtained.”


As such, the plaintiffs, all registered users of LinkedIn who allegedly lost job opportunities as a result of the Reference Search product, contend that the professional networking site has violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Act, “which was enacted to promote accuracy, fairness, and the privacy of personal information,” regulates the practices of consumer reporting agencies that collect and compile reports for potential employers, and also establishes a framework for the use and dissemination of such information. Plaintiffs assert that because LinkedIn assembles information on consumers via the Reference Search feature, LinkedIn falls within the definition of a consumer reporting agency, yet has failed to comply with the Act.


The plaintiffs seek statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of $1,000 per violation and “actual” damages for lost opportunities.


Various editorial pieces on the subject matter opine that the suit will hinge on whether LinkedIn is interpreted as a credit reporting agency. Ultimately, however, this case serves as a warning to social media participants. User beware: what you post and the people with whom you’ve directly connected using sites, such as LinkedIn, can come back to haunt you.


The case is: Sweet et al. v. LinkedIn Corp., No. 5:14-cv-04531 (N.D. Cal.)


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