New Jersey Supreme Court Holds That Employer and Its Attorneys Had No Right To Review Employee’s Privileged E-Mails Sent Via Company Computer
SHORT HILLS, N.J., March 30 /PRNewswire/ — In a case of first impression, the New Jersey Supreme Court today held that an employee who exchanged e-mail messages with her lawyer through her personal, password-protected, web-based e-mail account could reasonably expect that the communications would remain private and confidential, and that sending and receiving them using a company laptop did not eliminate the attorney-client privilege that protected them.
By reading e-mails that were at least arguably privileged and failing to promptly notify the employee’s attorney about them, the company’s lawyers violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The case arose out of an employment discrimination lawsuit file by Marina Stengart against her former employer, Loving Care Agency, Inc. From her company-provided laptop, Ms. Stengart accessed the internet through Loving Care’s server and used her personal, password-protected Yahoo e-mail account to communicate with her attorney, Peter J. Frazza of Budd Larner, PC in Short Hills, NJ.
After Stengart’s departure from the company, Loving Care hired experts to create a forensic image of the laptop’s hard drive, including temporary internet files. Those files contained the contents of e-mails Stengart had exchanged with attorney Frazza.
The Court stated that employers can adopt workplace policies relating to computer use to protect the productivity of a business. However, a company policy stating “that an employer could retrieve and read an employee’s attorney-client communications, if accessed on a personal, password-protected e-mail account using the company’s computer system — would not be enforceable.”
SOURCE Budd Larner, P.C.