I just read a case from a federal court in Colorado that concerns lawyers and their obligations to stay informed with hearing dates and court appearances. In the case, Pace v. United Services Automobile Association, No. 05-cv-01562, 2007 WL 2022059 (D. Colo. July 9, 2007), a Magistrate Judge granted defendant’s motion for attorney fees for plaintiff’s and his attorneys’ failure to appear at a settlement conference. Plaintiff's counsel did not receive notice of the settlement conference, which the court sent via email. Plaintiff's counsel said that the notice was treated as SPAM as was filted into the "junk email" folder.
The Judge found that plaintiff’s counsel failed to show that his absence at the conference was “substantially justified” or “that other circumstances would make an award unjust.” The Court held that attorneys are responsible for establishing office procedures to ensure receipt of notices from the Court: “It is incumbent upon attorneys to adopt internal office procedures that ensure the court’s notices and orders are brought to their attention once they have been received.” The Court went on to indicate that it is the attorneys’ responsibility to monitor cases and that to treat electronic notices as a “functional equivalent of junk mail” is unacceptable.
This ruling could certainly be used to argue that an employer's failure to receive an email from an employee could be insufficient if it went into a junk email folder. By way of example, if an employee sent an email to human resources lodging a complaint of harassment and for some reason the HR person did not receive or respond to it because it got filtered, a court could hold that the employer's failure to take prompt remedial action violated Title VII.
What this ruling suggests is that it is simply not good enough to say that you never received an email and that it "must have gone into the SPAM folder". It may be that the employer's duty is to review junk emails to make sure that there aren't any non-SPAM items that require attention. Under this ruling, it may be negligent or irresponsible for members of management to communicate by email but not check the junk email folder.