"Belongs To The Company" Means Exactly That

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In Holmes v. Petrovich Development Company, plaintiff Gina Holmes sued her former employer for sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, violation of the right to privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Using her Company computer, Holmes had sent emails to her attorney in which she discussed her employment situation and how she felt she was being treated on account of her pregnancy. The Company later located those emails. At trial, over Holmes' objections, the defendants were allowed to use those emails as evidence to show Holmes did not suffer severe emotional distress, was only frustrated and annoyed, and filed the action at the urging of her attorney.

The California Court of Appeal ruled that emails the plaintiffs sent to her attorney on the Company's computer system regarding possible legal action against the defendants were not protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Court came to this conclusion because Holmes used the Company's computer system to send the emails even though (1) she had been told of the Company's policy that its computers were to be used only for Company business and that employees were prohibited from using them to send or receive personal email, (2) she had been warned that the Company would monitor its computers for compliance with this Company policy and thus might "inspect all files and messages . . . at any time," and (3) she had been explicitly advised that employees using Company computers to create or maintain personal information or messages "have no right of privacy with respect to that information or message."

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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