Fenwick Employment Brief: Verbal Disclosure Of Private Facts Actionable

A California appellate court expanded the basis for a public disclosure of private facts claim in Ignat v. Yum! Brands, Inc.

Melissa Ignat worked in the real estate title department at Yum! Brands, Inc. – the parent company of fast food favorites such as KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. She periodically missed work due to her bipolar disorder. During a medical leave that Ignat took to deal with the disorder, her supervisor told co-workers that Ignat was bipolar. Following this disclosure, Ignat's coworkers allegedly shunned and ostracized her. Yum! eventually terminated Ignat, and she sued for invasion of privacy based on public disclosure of private facts.

The trial court dismissed the case on the ground that Ignat's cause of action required written disclosure of private facts, which did not occur. A California appellate court disagreed, quoting a 1950 case stating that verbal disclosure of a private matter "may be as rapid as the wagging tongue of gossip and as devastating as the printed page …." The court held that, in the modern era, there should be no distinction between verbal and written disclosure for purposes of a publication of private facts privacy claim; this distinction is "better suited to an era when the town crier was the principal purveyor of news."