STYLE: Michael Smyth vs. Pillsbury Company.
COURT: United States District Court of Pennsylvania.
CITATION: 914 F. Supp. 97; 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 776; 131 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P58, 104; 11 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 585. ISSUE: Can an employer be accused of violating public policy, tortuously invading privacy and subsequently be estopped from firing or discharging an at will employee, if for the purpose of company’s interest, it monitor an employee’s email communications over the company’s email system just to find them contrary to company’s interest? FACTS: Plaintiff, a manager at defendant’s company had work email account with access from home. Plaintiff was assured by defendant that email communication is private and confidential with no messages being intercepted and used employment termination.
Plaintiff in reliance to promise to its detriment used work email system to make threatening email comments with supervisor was intercepted and employment was terminated. Court ruled in favor of Defendant as it was not evident if termination threatened or violated a clear mandate of public policy or Plaintiff’s common law right to privacy. HOLDING: An employer cannot be accused for violating public policy, privacy and/or discharging an employee according to restatement definition of tort of intrusion upon seclusion. LAW: Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B: Liability only attaches when the “intrusion is substantial and would be highly offensive to the ‘ordinary. “Unless an employee identifies a ‘specific’ expression of public policy violated by his discharge, it will not be labelled as wrongful and within the sphere of public policy”.
EXPLANATION: The clear mandate of public policy must strike at the heart of a citizen’s social right, duties and responsibilities. Plaintiff was not fired for serving on jury duty, for prior conviction or for reporting violation of federal regulations to NRC. Plaintiff’s alleged unprofessional communication over email system utilized by entire company diminishes expectation of privacy. Plaintiff was not asked to disclose personal information by defendant. JUDGEMENT: The motion of the defendant to dismiss was granted. The complaint was dismissed with prejudice