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Natick couple, eBay fail to settle lawsuit over bizarre harassment

Ina and David Steiner in 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Natick couple who were harassed and stalked by eBay employees in 2019 have failed to reach a settlement with the company and are proceeding with the lawsuit they filed last year.

Representatives for Ina and David Steiner, who publish an online newsletter called EcommerceBytes, and eBay engaged in private mediation over the past three months but were unable to hash out an agreement.

“The parties were unsuccessful in resolving this matter,” Rosemary Scapicchio, the Steiners’ lawyer, wrote in a filing this week to US District Judge Douglas Woodlock.

Scapicchio declined to comment. EBay did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Successful mediation could have brought the ugly chapter in the Steiners’ lives to a close with some compensation and shielded the California company from further liability and embarrassment. Since lawyers for eBay and its former employees who are also being sued have moved to have some but not all of the Steiners’ claims dismissed, the two sides are likely to proceed to discovery and disputes over potential evidence in coming months as the case moves forward.

The lawsuit contends that the Steiners were emotionally and psychologically tortured in 2019, when eBay employees began harassing them over Twitter and sending them bizarre deliveries including live spiders, a bloody pig mask, and a funeral wreath. The campaign escalated in August, 2019, when several eBay employees traveled to Natick, tried to attach a tracking device to the Steiners’ car, and followed them around town.

The scheme unraveled when Natick police tracked the activity back to eBay. Federal prosecutors charged seven former eBay employees with involvement in criminal cyberstalking and witness tampering, and six have pleaded guilty. The last defendant is expected to plead guilty shortly.

Judge Woodlock had set proceedings in the Steiners’ lawsuit on hold in February so the settlement talks could proceed. At the time, the Steiners were due to file a brief opposing motions to dismiss some of the claims in the suit.

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Woodlock on Tuesday gave the Steiners until May 23 to file their response. The judge has not ruled on the dismissal motions, and a trial could be a year or more away.

While the lawsuit has been on hold, a separate criminal case against two participants in the harassment scheme has been moving forward.

In March, eBay disclosed a PowerPoint presentation it gave to federal prosecutors that stated the harassment of the Steiners was “clearly criminal” but did not merit charges against the company or its former top executives. And in April, one of the two defendants, eBay’s former head of security Jim Baugh, pleaded guilty to all of the charges he faced. That left only David Harville, who worked for Baugh, headed to trial. But Harville is scheduled to appear at a hearing on Thursday to change his plea, according to a court filing.


Aaron Pressman can be reached at aaron.pressman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ampressman.