Much of a Natick couple’s lawsuit over a bizarre harassment and cyber stalking campaign conducted by former eBay employees should be dismissed, the company said on Friday in a filing in federal court.
The couple, Ina and David Steiner, sued the company and almost a dozen former employees including former CEO Devin Wenig in July. The lawsuit alleged that the harassment campaign, which included sending the Steiners a bloody pig mask and surveilling their house, constituted emotional and psychological torture and seeks unspecified damages for 12 different alleged claims.
While eBay’s lawyers, including Jack Pirozzolo at law firm Sidley Austin, argued that 7 out of the 12 potential claims should be thrown out due to a lack of evidence, they also acknowledged that much wrongdoing had occurred.
“Nowhere in this motion or elsewhere does eBay intend to minimize the conduct alleged in the complaint,” the company’s lawyer wrote. “eBay recognizes that the Steiners likely are entitled to some fair and appropriate recovery for that conduct. It is, however, very much in the interest of all parties seeking the just and efficient resolution of this matter that the case proceed on those legal theories that are properly pleaded rather than those that are not.”
The filing marked the second time since the Steiners sued that eBay said the couple should receive some compensation for the ordeal they suffered at the hands of the company’s employees. In July, eBay said it would “do what is fair and appropriate to try to address what the Steiners went through.”
Rosemary Scapicchio, the Steiners’ lawyer, said the filing was seeking to minimize what happened.
“The best way to make the Steiners whole is not to fight a legal battle but for eBay, as a multi-billion dollar company with endless resources, to be accountable for their actions and to do the right thing by owning their own conduct and the conduct of their employees,” she said. “eBay should admit they were wrong and try to help the Steiners move forward. How dare they try to speak for the Steiners.”
Among the claims that eBay disputed from the Steiners’ lawsuit, one alleged that the harassment scheme violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a 1970s-era law aimed at organized crime. But eBay’s lawyers wrote that the Steiners “fail to adequately plead a pattern of racketeering activity.”
The filing also said the court should drop claims concerning alleged stalking, vandalism, and false imprisonment, among others. The filing did not dispute claims relating to a civil conspiracy, defamation, and several others.
Both sides have engaged high-powered Boston lawyers for the case. Scapicchio is perhaps best known for representing Sean K. Ellis, who was freed from prison after 22 years when his murder conviction was overturned in 2015.
EBay’s lead attorney Pirozzolo, before joining Sidley Austin in 2014, worked in the US Attorney’s Office on high-profile prosecutions including Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Catherine Greig, the girlfriend of James “Whitey” Bulger.
The harassment campaign occurred in 2019 after Wenig complained to his subordinates about the Steiners, who ran an online newsletter called EcommerceBytes that was occasionally critical of the company. Wenig, who left eBay in September 2019 with a $57 million severance package, has said he had no knowledge of the harassment campaign. He has not been charged in a related criminal case.
Lawyers for Wenig on Thursday argued that he should be dropped from the lawsuit because he was not involved in the harassment and didn’t know what his subordinates were doing.
“Claims against Wenig rest on three words in a lone text, taken out of context, that cannot bear the weight that Plaintiffs place on them,” his lawyers wrote in a court filing.
But after the CEO’s complaints, employees in eBay’s security department sent the Steiners threatening messages on Twitter and ordered bizarre deliveries including live insects, a funeral wreath, and a 4 a.m. pizza.
In August 2019, several eBay employees traveled to Boston and repeatedly drove past the Steiners’ house and followed the couple using rented vehicles. Natick police quickly made a connection between the harassment and the employees. They called in the FBI, leading to federal criminal charges against seven former employees involved in the plot. Five have already pleaded guilty.
The company apologized to the couple in a statement after the lawsuit was filed in July. “The misconduct of these former employees was wrong, and we will do what is fair and appropriate to try to address what the Steiners went through,” the company said. “The events from 2019 should never have happened, and as eBay expressed to the Steiners, we are very sorry for what they endured.”