Toy giant Zuru faces legal battle trying to identify authors of negative reviews

New Zealand toy company Zuru is facing determined legal opposition for its attempt to obtain the identities of netizens who wrote scathing comments about its work culture.

Documents filed in a United States District Court in California indicate that Zuru intends to bring a defamation action – in New Zealand – against one or more former workers who posted anonymous and critical reviews of the company on the US Glassdoor website.

Zuru said the reviews were “wrong and untrue”.

The court order from Magistrate Judge Alex Tse said Zuru wanted Glassdoor to reveal the identities of the workers, including their names, emails and IP addresses.

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The reviews were posted on Glassdoor.com, a site where current and former employees can rate their workplace experience.

Thing does not publish the substance of reviews at this time for legal reasons.

Zuru's Rainbocorn Surprise was Trade Me's top toy for Christmas 2021.

Provided / Stuff

Zuru’s Rainbocorn Surprise was Trade Me’s top toy for Christmas 2021.

A new batch of court documents obtained by Thing show Glassdoor does not plan to hand over information without a fight.

William J. Frimel, an attorney for Glassdoor, filed a motion in the Northern District of California court to quash Zuru’s earlier subpoena to reveal the identities of anonymous users.

Frimel said Zuru’s request should not be enforced as it was “unduly intrusive or burdensome”.

He cited U.S. trade case law arguing that Zuru had failed to provide the “true evidentiary basis” needed to force Glassdoor to hand over users’ identities.

“Furthermore, the allegedly defamatory statements at issue constitute opinion, which is not liable for defamation under US or New Zealand law,” he said.

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He also said Zuru’s subpoenas represented an “inappropriate attempt” to circumvent New Zealand’s evidence-gathering restrictions.

Zuru co-founder Nick Mowbray leaving the 2020 ASB Classic in a white Ferrari.

Ricky Wilson / Stuff

Zuru co-founder Nick Mowbray leaving the 2020 ASB Classic in a white Ferrari.

“Indeed, New Zealand law, where Zuru claims to intend to take legal action against people who allegedly defamed Zuru, would not allow Zuru to obtain the sought discovery from Glassdoor.”

Frimel further argued that Zuru should not be allowed to obtain the number of users who had seen the allegedly defamatory reviews, as he had requested, as it would be impractical to generate and was confidential and commercially sensitive to Glassdoor.

In an earlier public statement on the matter, Zuru, owned by the wealthy Mowbray family, called the criticism “spam”.

His latest statement reiterated the company’s position that the reviews were both false and untrue.

“We have never disputed the fact that people are sharing their opinions online and making their own assessments,” a spokeswoman said.

“But when we were made aware of fake reviews and fake reviews, we notified Glassdoor, who removed them because they were against their own policies.

“Beyond that, our goal is to celebrate the incredible team we have at Zuru, because it’s our people who have built a company culture that we’re all very proud of.”

A statement from a public relations representative for Anna Mowbray said she was not involved in the legal action and directed questions to her brother, Nick Mowbray.

The next hearing in the case will take place in early April in California.