Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
Bonita P. Bourke, et al. v. Nissan Motor Corporation in U.S.A.
California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, Case No. B068705 (July 26, 1993)
Plaintiffs, former employees of defendant, brought suit claiming, inter alia, that defendant's review of e-mail messages sent by plaintiffs over a company system of a personal and sexual nature constituted an invasion of their right of privacy in violation of both the California Constitution and common law. Plaintiffs also contended that their termination was motivated by their filing of a complaint attacking this conduct, which constituted a wrongful discharge in violation of California public policy.
The Court rejected these claims, and affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the employer. In so doing, the court found that plaintiffs lacked a reasonable, objective expectation of privacy in their e-mail communications and instead were on notice such mail could be reviewed without their knowledge or consent. Absent such an expectation, review of the messages could not constitute an invasion of privacy. This holding was based on the court's finding that "(1) Plaintiffs each signed a Computer User Registration Form, which states that "[I]t is company policy that employees and contractors restrict their use of company-owned computer hardware and software to company business." (2) In November or December of 1989, more than a year before her termination, [plaintiff] Hall learned from co-workers that E-mail messages were, from time to time, read by individuals other than the intended recipient. [Plaintiff] Hall relayed this information to [plaintiff] Bourke in March of 1990. (3) In June 1990, a full six months before [plaintiff] Bourke's termination, a fellow employee, Lori Eaton, contacted [plaintiff] Bourke to complain about the personal, sexual nature of [plaintiff] Bourke's E-mail message which Eaton had retrieved for demonstration purposes during a training session ...".
The wrongful discharge claim was dismissed due to the absence of any violation of public policy.