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.