A recent mention in social media led me to discover a currently-active lawsuit against the SCA currently being litigated out in An Tir: Parker v. Society for Creative Anachronism Inc.
As I understand it, the case was brought by Ha’kon Thorgeirsson and Alizand Thorgeirsson, a couple with long history in the Society, who became embroiled in a seemingly-endless web of disputes with other local participants, which seem to have included a mix of disagreements about how to run local Society affairs, random interpersonal drama, and the kinds of things that Americans refer to as “culture war” issues — the lead plaintiff’s social media posts include allegations of Democrats rigging the 2020 election, and claims that anti-Covid measures are motivated by a sinister desire for pervasive social control, while some of their antagonists complained about comments that were perceived as racist.
These disputes started around 2016 and escalated over time, culminating in his exile from the kingdom and subsequent R&D in 2021. The lawsuit seeks to have the R&D rescinded with an apology, payment of $150,000 for damages plus legal costs, and the imposition of policy changes around the topics of sanctions and appeals, elections and elevations, social media, and equity training.
Putting aside the merits of the individual underlying interpersonal disputes, the legal complaint raises some interesting issues, including two in particular that stood out to me on an initial reading.
Firstly, the plaintiffs challenge the SCA’s Social Media Policy, which considers some types of online interaction to be subject to Society review and possible sanction even if they take place outside of “official” SCA communications channels. Most notably, the day before his exile, the lead plaintiff was engaged in an argument in someone else’s Facebook comments when he “lost… his temper” and made what he admits was an “off-color remark that many objected to.” It appears that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and triggered the subsequent sanctions.
And secondly, the plaintiffs complain that the SCA failed to establish or enforce policies to protect them from “harassment, defamation, slander and bullying” by other participants, thus creating “a hostile work environment,” breaching a duty of care, and negligently inflicting “severe emotional distress.”
There seem to be an unresolved tension between the argument that on the one hand the SCA should not be able to sanction the plaintiffs for comments they made, no matter how hurtful they were, and on the other hand that the SCA failed to prevent other people from making hurtful comments about them.
I’m also intrigued by the arguments around whether the SCA should be considered a “work environment” despite being largely operated by volunteers — the plaintiffs point to a case in which volunteers at a fire department who were sexually harassed were found to be covered by workplace protections, while the SCA argues that participants and officers are unpaid volunteers and clearly not employees (but elsewhere argues that it holds the copyright to work created by the volunteers, as if they were employees).
And of course, this is another case in which people who were sanctioned allege that the SCA failed to adhere to its official procedures governing the sanctions process, a subject hashed out at great length in Aeron Harper’s “Tale of Six Sanctions” articles.
I was particularly interested to note the way in which the plaintiffs leverage the framework of DEIB, arguing that the sanctions process was conducted without suitable accommodation for Ha’kon’s Asperger’s diagnosis, which is ironic given his apparent support for right-wing cultural politics, which are generally unsupportive of DEIB policies.
The public case records are available via CourtListener.com and PACER/RECAP, including these highlights:
- Plaintiffs’ Complaint, setting forth the basis for the suit, April 17
- SCA’s Motion to Vacate Default, arguing that their failure to respond in a timely fashion was due to a paperwork mixup and should be forgiven, also setting forth their initial defense, May 23
- Plaintiffs’ Opposition to the above, along with various exhibits (G, D, C, etc), May 29.
- SCA’s Answer, a detailed response to the complaint, which mostly says the Society doesn’t know the details but denies everything, June 2.
- Plaintiff’s Declaration from Alizand, setting forth her perceptions of the saga leading up to the case, with various exhibits (J, M, K, L), June 12
- Court Order Vacating Default, in which the judge allows the case to proceed, June 12
- Joint Status Report, outlining a plan for discovery and estimating a five-day jury trial in May 2024.
It will be interesting to see how this case plays out!
[Update, June 23:] Additional opinionated commentary about this case is available on Reddit, along with some interesting context, including a screenshot of the “off-color remark.”