Best Ohio Employment Attorney Answer: Do I have to give two weeks’ notice when I quit? Can my boss fire me when I give two weeks’ notice? Does my company have a right to access my personal phone?
Sometimes, employment lawsuits are not about unlawful discrimination, or about retaliation for using protected medical leave or retaliation for filing a Worker’s Compensation claim. Instead, sometimes, employees sue a former employer for much more nominal reasons, such as the employer erasing an employee’s personal cell phone upon the employee’s resignation from the company.
Take the case of Rajaee v. Design Tech Homes, LTD for example.
Rajaee, prior to working for the employer, had worked in the residential home construction industry for over twelve years, collecting numerous business contacts over that time. When hired by the defendant employer, Rajaee’s position required him to have constant access to email to be able to “answer customer requirements and be available as needed.” The company did not provide Rajaee with a cell phone or any other type of device to access email or have customer contact. Instead, Rajaee used his personal iPhone to conduct his work for his employer. Rajaee’s iPhone was connected to the company’s Microsoft Exchange Server, allowing him remotely to access the email, contact manager, and calendar provided by the company.
In February, 2013, Rajaee announced that he would be resigning from the company. When he announced his resignation and gave two weeks’ notice (which he did not have to do), the company instead terminated his employment immediately (which it is allowed to do). A few days later, the company’s tech representative remotely wiped Rajaee’s iPhone, restoring it to factory settings and deleting all the data, both personal and work related, on the phone. Thereafter, Rajaee sued the company, alleging that its actions caused him to lose “more than 600 business contacts collected during the course of his career, family contacts (many of which are located overseas and some are related to a family business), family photos, business records, irreplaceable business and personal photos and videos and numerous passwords.”
As a basis for filing suit, Rajaee alleged that his former employer violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”). The ECPA, which is part of the federal Stored Communications Act, provides in Section 2701(a)(1) that whoever “intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system shall be punished as provided in subsection (b) of this section. 18 U.S.C. § 2701(a) (1).” On the other hand, the CFAA makes it unlawful to cause $5,000 or more in damage to electronically stored information.
First, the District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed the ECPA claim because “information that an individual stores to his hard drive or cell phone is not an electronic storage under the [ECPA].” Therefore the ECPA was inapplicable to Rajaee’s facts and complaint.
Second, the Court dismissed Rajaee’s CFAA claim. The issue here was whether Rajaee could demonstrate that he suffered at least $5,000 in damages as a result of having his personal information deleted off his phone. In support of this argument, the Court noted that, “Plaintiff testifies that he lost: (1) pictures of his personal home rehabilitation project, which decreased the value of the remodel by at least $50,000; (2) pictures and video of family, friends, and his dogs, which he values at $3,500; (3) all cell phone contacts after 2009, which he values at over $50,000 based on his diminished employability; (4) all of Plaintiff’s text messages, which he values at $1,000; and (5) all of his notes and email accounts, which he values at $600.” Notwithstanding this evidence, the Court determined that these items did not qualify as “loss” under the statute, and instead pointed out that the CFAA defines “loss” as “costs to investigate and respond to an offense, and costs incurred because of a service interruption.” Because Rajaee failed to produce any evidence that he suffered one of the two types of “loss” defined under the statute, his claim could not survive dismissal.
Clearly, if an employer shredded the personal photographs sitting on an employee’s desk upon his or her resignation, a court would have ruled differently. However, the trial court did allow Rajaee the ability to refile state law claims, including misappropriation of confidential information, violation of the Texas Theft Liability Act, negligence, and conversion. While there may be other claims that could have or should have been brought; or while other courts may have ruled differently, this shows that there are no certain results in the legal system.
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