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Can you be sexually harassed by emojis?

You had to give your boss your phone number, he needs it, right? After exchanging a few messages about scheduling, he sends you an eggplant emoji, a tongue and a smiley face. You know what those characters are implying even though it is not directly stated. Reading that message makes you feel instantly uncomfortable. Did you just get sexually harassed?

Defining the indefinable

Tiny pictures of facial expressions or objects sent in text messages, emails, or posted on social media sites are no longer just an annoying trend for the legal profession. More and more frequently emojis are becoming the topic of courtroom contention. Litigation involving the characters can range from business disputes to harassment even defamation. Last year alone emojis or emoticons were mentioned in at least 33 federal and state court proceedings.

California tries to clarify the meaning of a red lipstick emoji

An entertainment lawyer in Santa Monica is representing a producer in a dispute with her former business partner. Allegedly her business partner sent sexually explicit texts to a potential female employee. One text, in particular, is up for debate. The prospective employee responded to a message from the man in question with an showing a red-lipstick kiss mark. When interpreting the pictographic like images, the question becomes, did the potential employee approve of his advances or was she trying to respectfully keep her distance?

While certain emojis are more straightforward to decipher than others, it often makes the recipient wonder if the sender is saying what you think they are saying. Determining innuendo from a series of pictures is not clear-cut. Chances are if the message makes you feel uncomfortable, you might have to reconsider what the sender is really saying in between all the smiley faces.


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