The New Jersey Supreme Court’s December 2, 2010 decision in Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright, 204 N.J. 239 (2010) has spurred much debate among legal commentators about whether the New Jersey Supreme Court has opened a Pandora’s Box and sanctioned employee theft of documents. In Quinlan, the Court ruled that Joyce Quinlan, an employee of Curtiss-Wright, engaged in protected conduct in copying confidential data in the workplace and feeding it to her attorney for use in her ongoing discrimination lawsuit. A close review of the decision shows that the legal commentators have likely overreacted, and that Quinlan provides a workable, 7-part test to be applied in determining whether an employee’s theft of documents in the workplace can constitute protected activity under state employment statutes. The decision most certainly should prompt employers to closely analyze their workplace handbooks and be sure to keep close tabs on, and clearly mark and limit disclosure of, confidential data.
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