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Should I Erase Files On My Company Laptop After Getting Fired?

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Employment Law, Federal Law Update, Wrongful Termination |

Should I Erase Files from My Company Issued Laptop Before Giving It Back?

No. In a recent case, McCoy v. RFS Charitable Foundation, a District Court in the Northern Division of Ohio examined a motion to dismiss a former employer’s counterclaim based on a Rule 12(b) motion. Here, the District Court examined the former employer’s counterclaim of conversion of their property by an employee.

Niki McCoy filed a lawsuit against her former employer, RFS Charitable Foundation (RFS) for several employment discrimination claims. As part of the lawsuit, RFS filed several counterclaims in response. Specifically, RFS claimed McCoy illegally committed conversion on its company-issued laptop.

In Ohio, the tort of conversion is “the wrongful exercise of dominion over property to the exclusion of the rights of the owner, or withholding it from his possession under a claim inconsistent with his rights.” Revere Plastic Sys., LLC v. Plastic Plate, LLC, 509 F. Supp. 3d 986, 1002 (N.D. Ohio 2020) (Knepp, J.) (quoting Joyce v. Gen. Motors Corp., 551 N.E.2d 172, 175 (Ohio 1990). The District Court then listed the three elements of conversion.

A conversion claim has three elements: (1) the [counter-plaintiff] had ownership or right of possession of the property at the time of the conversion; (2) the [counter-defendant] converted the property by wrongful act or disposition of [counter-plaintiff’s] property; and (3) damages resulted. RAE Assocs., Inc. v. Nexus Commc’ns, Inc., 36 N.E.3d 757, 765 (Ohio 10th Dist. 2015) (citation omitted).

The District Court noted that RFS told McCoy to return her RFS issued laptop device shortly after her employment termination. However, McCoy left work that day with her RFS issued laptop. Two days later, RFS’s legal counsel wrote a letter to McCoy. That letter demanded McCoy to return the laptop and to preserve all “documents, communications, emails, text messages, direct messages or other records” related to her former employment at RFS. McCoy returned the laptop eight days after the demand letter. RFS inspected the laptop and discovered that McCoy had wiped all its data and installed a new operating system.

Next, the District Court concluded that RFS met its burden to sufficiently state a claim of conversion. Also, the District Court found that RFS sufficiently plead that McCoy wrongfully converted the laptop and the data and operating system contained therein. Thus, RFS’s counterclaim of conversion successfully survived McCoy’s Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss.

In conclusion, McCoy failed to turn in the company-issued laptop in upon request. Moreover, McCoy erased company owned data. Lastly, McCoy installed a new operating system. Thus, McCoy will likely regret her actions by having RFS’s counterclaim move forward through the litigation process.

Can I be sued personally if I bring an employment discrimination lawsuit against my employer?

While employers cannot sue you just because you asserted a claim for employment discrimination or wrongful termination, employers can sue if you have committed any unlawful acts that have caused the employer damages. In that situation, if you file an employment discrimination lawsuit against your employer, then they may assert their own claims against you. This is called a counterclaim. A counterclaim can put you on the defensive. In this case, you bear the burden of showing that their counterclaims are without merit. It is important to remember that these legal claims can be complex and difficult to navigate. An employee who believes that their employer may have grounds for a counterclaim is encouraged to seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney. (Best Law Read: Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical).

Additionally, if you file a lawsuit, your employer may be forced to choose between filing a counterclaim or losing its right to do so later. These are called compulsory counterclaims. Specifically, Rule 13 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) requires employers to bring as a counterclaim any claim they have against former employees already in the lawsuit if the claim “arises out of the same transaction or occurrence” as one of the former employee’s claims.

Meanwhile, permissive counterclaims are counterclaims addressing matters unrelated to the former employee’s claims. This allows both parties to settle all their otherwise unrelated disputes in one single lawsuit. Typically, courts address the claims and counterclaims at the same time if the employer’s counterclaims address the same essential concerns as the former employee’s claims. Meanwhile, a court may choose to address them separately if the counterclaims involve distinctly different issues or facts.

Can I ask the Judge to dismiss my employer’s counterclaims?

Yes. FRCP Rule 12(b) pertains to pretrial motions. Specifically, Rule 12(b)(6) deals with motions to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” As a practical matter, Rule 12(b)(6) motions are probably the most common defenses filed but are rarely successful. The rule states that a judge can dismiss a claim, or counterclaim, upon “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” This rule can have several different applications. Most often, an employee would make this motion against their former employer’s counterclaim if the counterclaim failed to address one or more elements of the claim.

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint/counterclaim “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

A complaint’s “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, a counterclaim must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id.

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a judge must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Inge v. Rock Fin. Corp., 281 F.3d 613, 619 (6th Cir. 2002). In this case, the party making the claim.

Should I still pursue a case against my former employer?

Best Employment Lawyer Answer: The best way to find out if you have a worthwhile employment discrimination case is to consult an experienced employment attorney. When you call the right attorney, our team will schedule you a free and confidential consultation with an actual lawyer. Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.


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