New Jersey Court Finds that Employees Have Privacy Rights for Facebook Posts
admin / 29.Jun, 2012
On May 30, 2012, the United States District Court of New Jersey ruled that an employee had protected privacy rights in regards to a post she had made on Facebook in the case of Ehling v. Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp. (http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=18320919796635627349&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
) Ehling, a nurse and paramedic at Monmouth-Ocean Hospital, filed suit against Monmouth for gaining access to her Facebook account. In particular, Ehling had claimed that the hospital obtained access through a supervisor’s threats to a coworker with whom she was friends on Facebook with. Monmouth then sent letters about Ehling’s Facebook activity to the New Jersey Board of Nursing and New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Emergency Medical Services. Such letters stated that the hospital was concerned that her postings showed disregard for patient safety.
The court found for Ehling under a claim for common law invasion of privacy based on unauthorized access of her Facebook posts. For a claim of invasion of privacy, New Jersey law requires an individual to demonstrate that her solitude or private affairs were intentionally infringed upon and that the infringement would highly offend a reasonable person. The court noted that case law typically holds one of two opinions: (1) That there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for material that is posted on an unprotected website accessible by the public and (2) That there is a reasonable expectation of privacy for password-protected online communications. The court further stated that privacy determinations are made on a case-by-case basis.
In this situation, the court determined that Ehling had a plausible claim for invasion of privacy, particularly due to the broad nature of the case law. Because she had taken steps to protect her Facebook account, including utilizing a password and not friending any of the hospital’s management, she may have had a reasonable expectation that her Facebook posts would remain private. The court additionally stated that reasonableness is a fact-sensitive matter, and there is a reasonable expectation of privacy for individual, password-protected online communications.
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