Federal judge picks Ohio Public Employees Pension System to lead investors’ lawsuit against Facebook

view original post

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lawyers for the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System will lead a series of consolidated investor lawsuits against Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, under a new order issued by the California-based federal judge overseeing the case.

District Judge Jon S. Tigar picked OPERS, Ohio’s largest public employee pension fund, over the California Public Employees Retirement System, saying Ohio suffered the largest alleged financial loss as a result of a drop last year in Meta’s stock, which plaintiffs in the case claim was a result of wrongdoing by company executives.

Tigar, a 2013 appointee of Democratic then-President Barack Obama, also combined separate similar lawsuits from OPERS, CalPERS and several other private institutional investors.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican whose office represents OPERS and other state pension systems, sued Meta Platforms in November, heavily citing a series of articles from the previous month that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The reports, citing internal Facebook documents provided by a whistleblower, said the company’s researchers had known for years that its Instagram product was psychologically harmful to teenage girls, yet it still planned an expansion that targeted pre-teens anyway, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also contends that CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives downplayed risks or exaggerated the company’s internal controls that protected its users from false or extremist content.

After Meta’s stock dropped slightly in the aftermath of the Wall Street Journal report, OPERS sold shares of Facebook in October 2021, at a loss of $4.3 million. Ohio’s lawsuit seeks class-action status, which would allow OPERS and other shareholders to become eligible for any damages the court may eventually award. The lawsuit says Facebook’s actions erased $100 billion in shareholder value.

Even after the lawsuit, OPERS continued to hold $539.8 million in Meta stock, making it the pension system’s sixth-largest stock holding, according to its 2021 annual report.

Facebook officials have called Ohio’s lawsuit “baseless,” but haven’t yet officially responded in court, since the case so far has dealt with combining the various similar lawsuits. Tigar’s new order gives Ohio and other parties in the case two weeks to propose a schedule of various deadlines for case arguments.

Yost has picked Bernstein Litowitz Berger Grossmann, a Los Angeles-based law firm, to represent OPERS in the case.