New Jersey District Court Holds That Stored Communications Act Protects Employee’s Private Facebook Posts, But Employer Still Free To Discharge Poster

In Ehling v. Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp., No. 2:11-cv-03305-WJM-MF (D.N.J. Aug. 20, 2013), a registered nurse was fired after her employer viewed several of her controversial private Facebook posts. In a matter of first impression, the New Jersey District Court held that such private Facebook posts are protected by the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA), a law that prohibits unauthorized access to non-public wire or electronic communications. However, the court further noted that the SCA contains two important exceptions: (1) it does not apply to conduct authorized by the provider of the services (Facebook can access its users’ private content); and (2) it does not apply to an authorized user of the service to whom the communication was intended (e.g., your Facebook friends can see your private posts). In this case the second exception applied—the employer was innocently provided screenshots of the posts by an authorized user to whom the posts were directed (the plaintiff’s Facebook friend). Because the plaintiff’s Facebook friend voluntarily showed his employer the plaintiff’s private posts—without any coercion or duress—the employer’s conduct did not violate the SCA. There likely would have been a different result if the employer coerced or strong-armed the co-worker into turning over his friend’s private posts, or if the employer somehow obtained the plaintiff’s Facebook password and accessed the posts itself. 

Note: This article was published in the September 2013 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.

Written by:

Published In:

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.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Don't miss a thing! Build a custom news brief:

Read fresh new writing on compliance, cybersecurity, Dodd-Frank, whistleblowers, social media, hiring & firing, patent reform, the NLRB, Obamacare, the SEC…

…or whatever matters the most to you. Follow authors, firms, and topics on JD Supra.

Create your news brief now - it's free and easy »

All the intelligence you need, in one easy email:

Great! Your first step to building an email digest of JD Supra authors and topics. Log in with LinkedIn so we can start sending your digest...

Sign up for your custom alerts now, using LinkedIn ›

* With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name.