Nosy Employers And Personal Email Accounts

By Daniel Saeedi, Rachel Schaller

May. 31, 2018

Lois Owen was an employee for Professional Consultants Inc. Owen occasionally would access her personal email account on her work computer.

After leaving PCI, Owen filed a discrimination complaint with a state agency, accusing PCI of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. During the discovery stage, Owen learned that PCI employees had accessed her AT&T account without her permission after she left PCI. Owen sued PCI for violation of the Federal Stored Communications Act, which prohibits the intentional unauthorized access of a plaintiff’s electronic communications stored at a third party facility. The court denied PCI’s motion to dismiss Owen’s SCA claim. The court rejected PCI’s argument that it had authorized access, merely because it owned Owen’s work computer.

To the contrary, the court stated that Owen’s personal email account was private and could not be accessed by an employer without authorization. Owen v. Cigna, 188 F. Supp. 3d 790 (N.D. Ill. 2016)

IMPACT: Employers should revisit their information technology protocol regarding the handling of employee computer systems and devices. And, employers (and their IT staff) should beware of letting curiosity get the best of them and refrain from logging into any employee’s personal accounts.

Rachel L. Schaller and Daniel Saeedi are attorneys at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. Comment below or email

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