Court Holds Employee Waived Attorney-Client Privilege By Using Web-Based Email On A Company Computer
The most recent case to highlight the importance of having properly drafted electronic personnel policies is Stengart v. Loving Care Agency. In Stengart, the New Jersey Superior Court held that an employee who used her web-based Yahoo email account on the Company’s computer waived her attorney-client privilege. In Stengart, the employee emailed her attorney during business hours from the laptop issued to her by her employer, Loving Care, before she left its employ.
After Stengart brought suit alleging hostile workplace and constructive discharge claims against Loving Care, the Company conducted a routine review of her computer to comply with the Court’s discovery rules. During this review, the Company came upon the privileged communication. While Stengart argued that the email should be returned or destroyed and the Company had no right to retain it, Loving Care countered that Stengart waived the privilege by communicating with her attorney on Company time and through the use of a Company-issued laptop. Importantly, the Court relied upon the Company’s comprehensive handbook provisions that prohibited employees from using the email system for “employment activities outside the scope of the Company business” or for “solicitation or outside business ventures.” Moreover, the Court cited the Handbook’s provision that emails sent on the Company’s server are not to be considered private or personal to any employee. Finally, the Court noted that Stengart herself helped create and distribute the Handbook and, therefore, she could not reasonably claim that she was unaware of the policy.
This decision confirms the importance of having properly drafted email, computer and personnel policies.
As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.
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