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NJ Court Upholds Privacy of Personal Emails At Work 172

Posted by Soulskill
from the easier-said-than-done dept.
chiguy sends word of a ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court which found that a company did not have the right to read emails from an employee's personal account even through the account was accessed on a company computer. This ruling is likely to set precedent for other workplace privacy cases around the country. "'The court has recognized the very legitimate and real concerns with regards to privacy. This gives some guidance to employers in terms of how explicit (e-mail) policies need to be,' [attorney Marvin Goldstein] said. The ruling stems from a harassment and discrimination lawsuit Marina Stengart of Bergen County filed three years ago against Loving Care of Ridgefield Park. Stengart, then the executive director of nursing, sent her attorney eight e-mails from her company-loaned laptop about her issues with her superiors. Stengart used her Yahoo e-mail account. 'Under all of the circumstances, we find that Stengart could reasonably expect that e-mails she exchanged with her attorney on her personal, password-protected, web-based e-mail account, accessed on a company laptop, would remain private,' Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the decision, which upholds an appeals court’s ruling last year."
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NJ Court Upholds Privacy of Personal Emails At Work

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  • by demonlapin (527802) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:25PM (#31708620) Homepage Journal
    This is her company, not the government.
  • by Nickodeemus (1067376) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:46PM (#31708790)
    Your examples refer to property that is not owned by the company - just because its on their property doesn't give them rights over it. The article and this discussion pertains to company owned property.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:48PM (#31708810) Journal

    MARINA STENGART v. LOVING CARE AGENCY, INC., [and others]
    http://www.employerlawreport.com/uploads/file/Steingart%20v_%20Loving%20Care.pdf [employerlawreport.com]

    As part of the employment relationship, the company
    provided plaintiff with a laptop computer and a work email
    address. Prior to her resignation, plaintiff communicated with
    her attorneys
    , Budd Larner, P.C., by email. These communications
    pertained to plaintiff's anticipated suit against the company
    ,
    and were sent from plaintiff's work-issued laptop but through
    her personal, web-based, password-protected Yahoo email account.
    After plaintiff filed suit, the company extracted and
    created a forensic image of the hard drive
    from plaintiff's
    [New Page]
    computer. In reviewing plaintiff's Internet browsing history,
    an attorney at Sills Cummis
    discovered and, as he later
    certified, "read numerous communications between [plaintiff] and
    her attorney from the time period prior to her resignation from
    employment with [the company]."
    Sills Cummis did not advise
    Budd Larner that the image extracted from the hard drive
    included these communications.

    Many months later, in answering plaintiff's
    interrogatories, the company referenced and included some of
    plaintiff's emails with her attorneys
    .

    That sounds like the type of shit that should get the company lawyer disbarred.
    Reading the facts of the case, I'm not at all surprised the Judge ruled the way he did.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:52PM (#31708842)

    Most companies do not absolutely prohibit any personal usage, allowing some reasonable usage.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @03:01PM (#31708950)

    The company did have their usage policies written out and the court noted that they explicitly said "occasional personal use is permitted."

    So she didn't violate the company's acceptable use policy.

    If the company policy had said that personal use is never permitted, the court might well have ruled differently.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday April 02, 2010 @03:02PM (#31708960)

    On a closer note, it's the same privacy standard as if she'd had the conversation with her lawyer on the company phone

    I'm too lazy to get you a citation, but the "lawyer" half isn't necessary - the courts long ago ruled that an employer can not snoop on her phone calls to ANYONE even if she is using a company phone.

  • by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Friday April 02, 2010 @03:34PM (#31709254)
    Are they prohibited from listening to personal calls made on a company phone?

    Linky [privacyrights.org]

    "An important exception is made for personal calls. Under federal case law, when an employer realizes the call is personal, he or she must immediately stop monitoring the call. (Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co., 704 F.2d 577, 583 (11th Cir. 1983)) However, when employees are told not to make personal calls from specified business phones, the employee then takes the risk that calls on those phones may be monitored."

    So if they tell you not to do it, they can monitor if you make calls. Decidedly a gray area me thinks which means, yes they can.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @03:55PM (#31709396)

    True, but there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace, only misguided ignorance and stupidity.

    (Glances at the discussion title...)

    It appears that you are mistaken, at least according to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, and I think they know more about following the precedents than you do.

  • by plague3106 (71849) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:38PM (#31709738)

    Since Federal law always trumps state law, you're wrong. A State can no more restrict my freedom of speech any more than the Feds could.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:57PM (#31709866) Journal

    Ok. But if what she did was wrong "regardless of the content", why did the employer have to read them?

    Before she resigned, she was planning to sue the company.
    After she resigned and filed her lawsuit, the company went back and dug through her work laptop.
    Then the company lawyers quoted, to her, Yahoo e-mails between her and her lawyer...
    Which is how the whole thing turned into a clusterfuck.

    Unfortunately, this only sets a binding precedent in New Jersey (AFAIK).

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