An employee of a Connecticut-based company, when fearing termination, used her personal email address to transfer data using her desktop in Canada to locate data that was on the Connecticut-based servers and then emailed it to herself. The company sued the former employee in Canada but filed in Connecticut, contending that she violated state law by accessing servers in Connecticut.
Paul Mollica, employment attorney with Outten and Golden, an employment law firm in Chicago and New York, says that the employee challenged it by saying that because she was in Canada when she accessed the data and she obtained the data using a desktop based in Canada, that the Connecticut court didn't have any personal jurisdiction over her. The District Court agreed but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that there was jurisdiction.
Mollica believes this case is important and employees should bear a few things in mind. As an employee, you should know your company's data access rules and that employees are generally allowed limited access to data based on a set of rules, such as having a password. Like having a key to a safe, Mollica says there are purposes to use it and purposes not to use it and the employer usually sets out these rules. In this case, the company apparently had a policy that employees are not allowed to use personal emails to access or mail information to themselves and this policy was violated by the former employee. Additionally, the company alleges this was done for unlawful purposes, notes Mollica.
The ordinary rule is that if the employer sets limits or controls on an employee's access to data, an employee's violation of those protocols might violate state law, according to Mollica. When data is accessed remotely, it might subject the employee to jurisdiction in a remote place. Mollica says that this employee thought everything she was doing was in Canada but she was using telecommunications technology that enabled her to access information on a server that was actually located in Connecticut. The Second Circuit Court availed herself of Connecticut jurisdiction and said that she committed at least part of the violated law in Connecticut, Mollica adds.
An employee needs to be thoughtful about the circumstances of collecting data and the consequences of accessing remote data, cautions Mollica, as the employee in this case now faces a lawsuit in a foreign country. The focus of the Second Circuit Court wasn't the location of the device used to get the data, which was the employee's argument, rather it was the fact that the employee was accessing data that was in Connecticut, says Mollica.
Paul Mollica is counsel for Outten and Golden LLP, a law firm focusing on employment law. For more information on Paul Mollica, click here. For more information on the case referenced in this video, visit the employment law blog. Paul’s commentary was hosted by the Employment Law Channel, part of The Legal Broadcast Network.