NY Workers File Suit Over Employer-Accessed IMs

Published May 2, 2012

Two New York employees have provided another example of why it might be a good idea to err on the side of caution when conducting personal conversations on work devices.

Karen Gould and Julie Snyder were employees of Fantasy Interactive, a global digital agency that works with clients such as Google, HTC, and the History Channel. Gould and Snyder confided in each other about personal and work experiences through Skype instant messages.

In addition to personal information, the two employees complained about the workplace, with Snyder writing repeatedly “I hate this place.” The messages also divulged Snyder’s plans to look for a new job and requests for Gould to look over her resume. The employees didn’t hold anything back in writing disparaging remarks about their boss, CEO David Martin, who, they referred to as “a skeez,” a “pathological liar,” “a f***ing dick,” and “evil.”

Invasion of Privacy
Gould was planning to move to Hawaii to work remotely for the company, so the messages also discussed administrative details about health insurance and Gould’s hourly billing and housing details in Hawaii, Forbes reported.

Snyder and Gould commented during one of their chats about how horrible it would be if their conversations were monitored. After Snyder allegedly made disturbing comments in the workplace, Martin instructed an IT to access the Skype file on Snyder’s computer and print the content. Snyder was fired in November 2010, and Gould resigned.

On May 25, 2011 Snyder and Gould decided to file a lawsuit against the company claiming invasion of privacy and violation of electronic communication laws.

Private Conversations Not Permitted
Snyder et al v. Fantasy Interactive Inc. is filed in the Southern District of New York and claims the conversations took place after work hours and on nonwork computers, which FI disputes.
“The lawsuit is entirely frivolous and should be dismissed, as FI did not invade the privacy of Karen Gould or Julie Snyder in any way,” stated Aimée A. Drouin, attorney for Fantasy Interactive, in an email response to InfoTech & Telecom News.

Drouin included several counter-claims in her message, including breach of contract since the employees failed to follow the guidelines of their Human Resource manuals. The HR manual states conversations are not private and private conversations during working hours are not permitted.

“In fact, the employees both signed employment agreements to adhere to these HR policies, so both employees breached their employment contracts by misusing FI’s computer systems,” Drouin wrote.

“The only device FI accessed for the communication was located on a desktop computer owned by FI within the FI office, in a program [Skype] which FI employees are required to maintain to use for business purposes only,” Drouin added. “Essentially, the ‘access’ was similar to simply accessing a work-related Microsoft Word document on one of the company’s computers.”

Fantasy Interactive moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but a New York judge ruled the plaintiffs have valid claims under the Stored Communications Act, so the case can move to trial. However, the motion resulted in the dismissal of six of the nine claims in the complaint.

“FI intends to continue to vigorously defend itself and its defendant employees from these meritless claims,” wrote Drouin. “I anticipate that the remainder of the complaint will be dismissed on my Summary Judgment motion.”
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.