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Electronic Privacy in the Workplace: CA Court Rules Attorney-client Privilege Does Not Protect Work E-mail

January 24, 2011

In a recent California electronic privacy ruling that our labor and employment attorneys based in Orange County, California have been following, according to a 3-0 decision by a California court of appeals last week, e-mails between a client and attorney are not considered confidential and privileged if the e-mails are written by the client from a work e-mail account.

In the ruling, the Third Appellate District Court in Sacramento agreed to uphold the previous decision against Gina M. Holmes, who sued her employer, Petrovich Development Company, for allegedly being subjected to sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and violation of privacy, as well as emotional distress. Holmes reportedly claimed that her employer became hostile shortly after she was hired as a secretary in 2004, when the employer discovered that Holmes was pregnant.

According to Wired, Holmes e-mailed her attorney from her work e-mail account to discuss legal action. After filing an employment lawsuit against the company, her e-mail correspondence with her attorney was reportedly introduced during the trial to show that Holmes did not suffer severe emotional distress, but was frustrated and only filed the legal action under the advisement of her attorney. The appeals court found that Holmes' e-mails to her attorney were not confidential because the company had a written policy stating that company e-mail was not private and could be audited at any time.

In a related blog covering a Supreme Court ruling on electronic privacy in the workplace that our attorneys recently discussed, an Ontario, California police officer claimed that his privacy rights were violated in the workplace after his supervisor read personal text messages that the officer had sent using his work-issued pager.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that if a supervisor suspects that employment rules are being violated, and the employer has work-related purpose, then they have the right to inspect an employee's desk or text messages. On future issues regarding electronic privacy in the workplace, the Supreme Court claimed that they will "proceed with care."

In Orange County and throughout Southern California, our Santa Ana Labor & Employment Attorneys know how to find the best solution to your labor or employment issue. Contact Howard Law, PC today.

Work E-Mail Not Protected by Attorney-Client Privilege, Court Says, Wired, January 18, 2011

Court: Attorney-Client E-mails Not Private if You're at Work, Arts Technica, January 19, 2011

Attorney-client Privileges Don't Apply to Work E-mail, MSNBC, January 19, 2011

Related Web Resources:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC: Sexual Harassment

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, EPIC