When Houston's restaurant manager TiJean Rodriguez browsed through a MySpace group created in March 2006 so employees could trash-talk their workplace, he was appalled. The password-protected group, named "The Spectator," was rife with raunchy, offensive and sometimes violent commentary about work life in the Hackensack, N.J., restaurant.
Houston's employee and authorized Spectator member Karen St. Jean showed the site to Rodriguez while eating dinner at his house. Rodriguez thought other supervisors should see it, too. Several days later, another manager, Robert Anton, asked St. Jean for the password so he too could read the insulting messages. Anton shared The Spectator with regional supervisor Robert Marano, who fired Brian Pietrylo, the group's creator, and participant Doreen Marino in May 2006. Marano claimed the forum's contents contradicted Houston's core operating principles. Pietrylo and Marino sued Houston's owner, the Hillstone Restaurant Group, alleging the company violated the Stored Communications Act (SCA) as well as their privacy by accessing the password-protected group without permission. The complaint claimed St. Jean gave Anton the password under duress.
While the SCA protects Web scribes who secure their writing with a password, the statute permits an authorized user to show the comments to whomever she wants, DelDuca says. Originally, St. Jean showed The Spectator to Rodriguez voluntarily, according to court documents.