A Natick couple suing eBay and its former chief executive over a bizarre harassment scheme will get a chance to expand the lawsuit they filed in 2021 with new information, such as a company presentation admitting some employees’ actions were “clearly criminal.”
US District Judge Douglas Woodlock ruled on Wednesday that David and Ina Steiner could submit a revised complaint, including details that came out in 2022 when five of eBay’s former employees were sentenced for crimes arising from the scheme.
New details that came out last year included a previously confidential 34-page PowerPoint presentation eBay lawyers made to prosecutors that conceded some of its employees’ actions were “clearly criminal” and former CEO Devin Wenig’s “tone was improper and unacceptable.” Court filings also exposed messages and e-mails between Wenig and Jim Baugh, the former eBay security chief who masterminded the harassment scheme and was sentenced to almost five years in prison last year.
Wenig, who left the company a month after the scheme was exposed by police, has said he knew nothing of the harassment and has not been charged by prosecutors.
Woodlock’s ruling comes after the Steiners and their lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, filed hundreds of pages of material from the criminal cases to bolster their original lawsuit while the company and other defendants fought back with their own flood of briefs seeking to have the case dismissed.
Woodlock essentially ruled for a do-over on the lawsuit, giving the Steiners until Feb. 15 to file a revised complaint. He also removed himself and handed the case over to District Judge Patti Saris, who is more familiar with the harassment incident after overseeing several of the criminal cases.
The allegations in the original complaint “have been obscured by a massive accumulation of paper that does not provide a simple, concise and direct statement of currently plausible claims and counterclaims,” Woodlock wrote in his order. “Plaintiffs are entitled to state their claims in light of the current development of litigation bearing on their civil case before motion to dismiss practice is completed.”
The Steiners run a website called Ecommercebytes that covers news at eBay. In 2019, Wenig complained to subordinates, including Baugh, about the site. Baugh then orchestrated a harassment campaign that included sending the Steiners live spiders, a bloody pig mask, and a funeral wreath, as well as threatening messages on Twitter. The campaign culminated in August 2019 with Baugh and several others traveling to Natick and following the Steiners around town before Natick police unraveled the scheme and reported it to the FBI.
In their original lawsuit filed in July 2021, the Steiners said they had been emotionally and psychologically tortured. Among a dozen counts, the lawsuit alleged the company, Wenig, Baugh, and other former employees had inflicted emotional distress and violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). It also sought unspecified damages.
Scapicchio said Woodlock’s ruling should help the case get to trial sooner. “This definitely speeds up the litigation timeline,” she said. “We’re now able to include all of the defendants’ admissions and acceptances of responsibility in our civil complaint.”
EBay and a lawyer for the company did not respond to requests for comment on Woodlock’s ruling.
One of Wenig’s lawyers, Martin Weinberg, noted that Woodlock’s ruling was strictly procedural and did not speak to the merits of the Steiners’ case. The revised lawsuit “we would hope [will be] without claims such as the prior RICO allegation that are entirely unsupported as a matter of both law and fact as to at least Devin Wenig as were other allegations referencing Mr. Wenig in the original filing,” he said in an e-mail.