Update: Librarians Embroiled in Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Harassment

In a Statement of Claim dated July 15, 2014, Joe Murphy—a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker—named librarians nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey as defendants in a civil lawsuit filed in Toronto, Ontario (de jesus is a Canadian citizen). Murphy is suing the two for $1.25 million in damages--$1 million for general defamation, and $250,000 for aggravated exemplary and punitive damages. On March 25, 2015, de jesus and Rabey both published retractions and apologies to the Team Harpy website, which had previously hosted their joint legal defense fund, as well as to their personal blogs and Twitter accounts.
Editor's Note: On March 25, 2015, as mentioned in the comments below by Joseph Murphy, nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey both published retractions and apologies to the Team Harpy website, which had previously hosted their joint legal defense fund, as well as to their personal blogs and Twitter accounts. In those statements, de jesus wrote in part, "I realize that a lot of people have rallied to my aid, but I have to be honest to them in saying 'I was wrong' about Mr. Murphy and I urge anyone who might take the position that they 'support' me by helping me to undo the damage I unwittingly caused to Mr. Murphy and to the cause of credible conversations about accountability and harassment." Rabey added, "I strongly encourage those who aligned with #teamharpy and decided to attack Mr. Murphy to cease to continue to defame or disparage him. Mistakes have been made and we have the opportunity to show good character by apologizing and moving on.” Sarah Houghton, who previously administered the crowdsourced legal defense fund, referred LJ's inquiry as to whether any funds remained and if so, how they would be handled, directly to Rabey and de jesus. On March 28, Rabey made blog post which reads in part "The ‪#‎teamharpy‬ lawsuit has settled out of court. There was no trial. The apologies/tweets were part of that settlement. No damages were paid out to the plaintiff. We should have the dismissal from the courts any day now, then it is officially over. Any funds left over from our fundraising will be donated to charity." LJ's original article, which was published in October 2014, appears below.
In a Statement of Claim dated July 15, 2014, Joe Murphy—a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker—named librarians nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey as defendants in a civil lawsuit filed in Toronto, Ontario (de jesus is a Canadian citizen). Murphy is suing the two for $1.25 million in damages--$1 million for general defamation, and $250,000 for aggravated exemplary and punitive damages—as well as filing a legal injunction to prevent the defendants from “broadcasting or transmitting or publishing or posting on the internet or world-wide-web [sic] defamatory, false and harmful statements or imputations concerning the plaintiff which are intended to lower his esteem, harm his reputation and cause him damage.” The suit also requires them to take down any statements about Murphy that they made online, including comments on blog posts and retweets or replies on Twitter. Murphy, in a statement to LJ, declared that these statements “started to affect my ability to make a living in a career that I love and it affected my well being.” The statements in question were posted by de jesus and Rabey in May, naming Murphy and accusing him of predatory and inappropriate behavior. On May 3 Rabey, using the twitter handle @pnkrcklibrarian, posted a response to an undesignated tweet: “Of COURSE Joe Murphy was involved. Nothing says library futures like a known sexual predator.” (This references the position Murphy then held as director of library futures for library software provider Innovative Interfaces, Inc., which ended in July. Gene Shimshock, the company’s vice president, told LJ that Murphy had agreed to pilot the position for a year, and that he left on good terms.) On May 5, Rabey posted, “With added bonus: Rumour mill has reached me I’m apparently ruining Joe Murphy’s career. AHAHAHAHAHA…” On May 4, nina de jesus published a post on her blog, satifice.com, titled “Time to Talk About Community Accountability.” In it, she referenced Rabey’s May 3 twitter post to initiate a discussion of inappropriate behavior that, she said, has become common on the library conference circuit. This post also mentioned Murphy by name, stating, “Can I point out the fact that Joe Murphy’s behaviour is so well known that women attending lib conferences literally have instituted a buddy-type safety system to protect themselves? That—quite literally—they are afraid to be alone with him? Add this to the fact that librarians are mostly women and one begins to truly understand that this is what institutional sexism looks like.” The post then went on to address a larger issue: that this behavior persists throughout the library community and that she feels a pervasive lack of support from the community at large: “One of the reasons why situations like this continue, despite the offender being known, is that, within our communities (both libraries and beyond), there is little-to-no support for victims and/or survivors.”

CODES OF CONDUCT

The conversation about harassment at conferences, of which these posts were part, does not come in a vacuum. In the science fiction, comics, gaming, and tech worlds, which were for many years predominantly male, women have experienced a pervasive atmosphere of verbal and physical harassment. Over the past few years organizations such as Geek Feminism and the Ada Initiative have helped these communities develop tools for identifying and confronting such situations. Many organizations and communities are approaching the issue by drawing up codes of conduct, which address harassment not only of women but along racial, gender identity, and disability lines. Some conference speakers and sponsors will no longer do business with an organization that doesn’t have such policies in place. (A copy of LJ’s Diversity Statement can be found here.) The American Library Association (ALA), in light of numerous reports of harassment during ALA conferences, drew up and posted its own Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA Conferences in November 2013. The document was drafted and discussed at length by a group of ALA members, staffers, and counsel. Librarian and software developer Andromeda Yelton, one of its authors, wrote earlier this year, “This statement is a mechanism for addressing disputes, but it is also a declaration of values: it signals to everyone who we are. Furthermore, it’s part of an ongoing dialog about inclusion in library-related conference communities.”

FILING THE CASE IN CANADA

Murphy’s lawsuit is what is known as a SLAPP—a strategic lawsuit against public participation. He has chosen to file it in Toronto, and as such, based on Canadian law, it is now de jesus’s and Rabey’s burden to prove that their statements are not, in fact, libelous. To this end, they have put out a call for witnesses on their legal defense website, Team Harpy, which was established to help publicize and raise funds for their case. (As of October 1, $13,498.89 had been raised, according to librarian Sarah Houghton who administers the fund, and approximately $1,301.13 had been disbursed to de jesus and Rabey for legal expenses already incurred.) In addition, John Jackson, an academic librarian based in Los Angeles, organized a petition on Change.org asking Murphy to drop the lawsuit. As of this writing the petition has collected more than a thousand signatures, and has generated some heated discussion on Facebook. Murphy’s U.S. attorney, Marc Randazza, told LJ that, as de jesus and Rabey have not produced witnesses to date, the case would move to a summary judgment, without going to trial, “relatively soon.” THE CONVERSATION GROWS One positive repercussion of Murphy’s lawsuit, and de jesus and Rabey’s responses, has been to mobilize further discussion about harassment and marginalization in the library world. Librarians have been speaking up to share their stories; after the 2014 ALA conference, children’s and teen librarian Ingrid Abrams created a survey asking about harassment  incidents, and documented the results. “I don’t think people know how wide-spread harassment is at conferences,” she wrote on her blog, The Magpie Librarian. “When I relayed [my] story…most male librarians were shocked. Female librarians expressed sympathy and then usually shared similar (or worse!) stories with me. However, I am not naive enough to believe that those who identify as female are the only ones who are harassed, intimidated, threatened, or even physically attacked at conferences. Homophobia, racism, transphobia, and able-ism can also occur.” A number of the events being discussed took place place outside of the ALA conference itself, often after hours, Yelton noted in a conversation with LJ, and cautioned that addressing such events would “need a different set of tools for a community code of conduct.” Still, she said, having a document like this in place lets people know that there are concrete actions they can take in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Conflict resolution outlines, such as the one in Code4Lib’s code of conduct, are also helpful. As Yelton explained to LJ, a publicly documented procedure has more legitimacy, and enables participants to understand how it was carried out; it also separates the event from its emotional component. In a statement on the Team Harpy website, de jesus and Rabey “maintain that our comments are fair and are truthful, which we intend to establish in our defense. Neither of us made the claims maliciously nor with any intent to damage Mr. Murphy’s reputation…. We believe that by speaking up and speaking out we are contributing to a change in culture whereby victims and survivors no longer have to be silent about our experiences.” Neither de jesus nor Rabey wished to comment further.
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Roger Tanner

Dear Amy, You said in the comments that spreading rumors without basis in fact or evidence is OK. And apparently you believe that suing somebody for defamation is "bullying and censorship". I heard a rumor that you might be a child rapist and a murderer. Now don't censor or bully me please with your lawyer. I hate you because you might be a child rapist and pedophile. According to rumor i might have heard. Best regards! RT

Posted : Jan 01, 2016 10:49


John C. Randolph

The poster using the handle "End Sexism Now" is a vicious, evil little shit for suggesting that an innocent man should confess to a crime just to serve the political agenda of the people who slandered him. This is exactly the kind of thing that Solzhenitsyn described in the Gulag Archipelago, where a prisoner who was just grabbed to make a quota would be leaned on to confess "for the good of the party." -jcr

Posted : Jun 17, 2015 03:48


ImanAzol

No matter what, we should always assume the man is innocent and telling the truth. The Harpies' (how accurate a name) have committed rape and belong in jail. As we have seen in recent weeks in the news, these allegations are ALWAYS lies. Women ALWAYS lie. Oh, they don't? Well, neither do they ALWAYS tell the truth.

Posted : Jun 05, 2015 08:40

James McParland

Excellent point, ImanAzol. In my experience, males and females stand on equal footing when it comes to psychological propensities for fantasizing, story-telling, projecting, being defensive, avoiding personal responsibility, and lying. Our legal system and courtroom rules of due process are based on centuries' of experience dealing with such human failings. To suppose that university Title IX administrators, feminist bloggers or ALA officials now have some superior insight into human conflicts is both preposterous and the height of intellectual arrogance.

Posted : Jun 05, 2015 08:40

John C. Randolph

NO, they've committed slander, not rape. Expanding the definition of rape to include crimes that are not rape, only helps them in their goal to punish the innocent. -jcr

Posted : Jun 05, 2015 08:40


Anonymous

I am a librarian who has been raped at a library conference by a conference organizer. For what it's worth, it was not Joe Murphy. I also happened to have been raped one other time before in University, which I reported to the police. I had to stand trial and give statements. The defense tore me apart - I had been drinking that night, I had made out with someone else that night, I was too slutty. My parents knew, my professors knew, everyone I know knew, and I went from being known for being smart and funny to being known for being raped. That process was the longest, hardest time of my life. It felt like it lasted forever. He didn't even get convicted. He was found guilty and then appealed and was let off. So when I was raped at a library conference, the whole time all I could think was, "I will never report this to the police." Yes, that was what went through my head as I was being raped. Because you know if you've been raped, that process sucks. It sucks so much. And if all of library land knew, I can't see a way out of the stigma, short of changing careers. All that being said, it would be nice to warn other women that there's a rapist out there at conferences. But I can't. And you know why? This guy will probably sue me. And I will be known as rape girl. And I'll never get another job. And I live in Canada, where apparently it's super easy to get sued for this kind of thing. So you know what? I'm glad this case happened. I'm glad Joe Murphy sued nina and Lisa. You know why? Because now I know to never ever name my rapist, in case he sues me. And I know never to speak out because getting trolled and doxed will never be worth it. So thank to JM for proving that there are librarians out there who would sue other librarians. And thanks to nina and Lisa for completely discrediting victims.

Posted : May 21, 2015 02:34

James McParland

Gosh, who knew that Library Conferences were such hotbeds of lust? I don't understand why librarians should never sue other librarians. If another librarian rear-ended your car and totalled it, and then refused to pay for damages, wouldn't you sue? Its called tort law. Do librarians take some kind of oath never to seek justice in a court of law like other citizens do? And no, I don't think Team Harpy discredited any actual victims, either.. Under any reasonable interpretation, they merely discredited themselves.

Posted : May 21, 2015 02:34

John C. Randolph

...and since you're posting from the cover of anonymity, we should of course believe you. After all, it's not like anyone with an agenda to push has ever lied about a rape, is it? If you're telling the truth, then stand up and name names. -jcr

Posted : May 21, 2015 02:34


Anna

To me, this still points to the fact that older men and young women may perceive their interactions and power imbalances very differently. I have been a librarian for two years. I've already been warned about a senior male colleague who 'collects young ladies' on my campus. It would affect my reputation, far more than his, if I went on a date unwarned, without information on how he is perceived by others on campus. I had a male with hiring authority send personal emails and quietly ask to meet up for an evening social occasion unrelated to libraries; although he was friendly and good looking, this made me very uncomfortable. I was a new MLS grad seeking a job with him--and he was a senior manager with hiring authority, indirectly asking me out. I've seen him at conferences since, with flattered young women at his side. I have let friends know, quietly-- but haven't shared his identity in public. To me as a young woman, warning about men who made advances is what women *do* for other women. I understand why the female defendants likely made the statements they did, not realizing that this is usually done in private, between vulnerable women, and not in public. And I indeed hope that the guy who filed the suit does not experience harm from strong accusations that could not be substantiated. My own uncle was driven out of teaching because of a false claim of sexual harassment by students, so I certainly understand the high stakes for all of us in these type of interactions -- and yet how much we still need and desire to work closely together to advance our profession! Ironically, young women and prominent men are probably the two most vulnerable groups in these types of situations -- a perfect storm.

Posted : Apr 08, 2015 06:00