Court Denies Privacy Rights in Company E-mail System

Gina Holmes started working as an executive assistant at Petrovich Development Co., a retail developer, in June 2004. The next month she told her boss, Paul Petrovich, the president of the company, that she was pregnant. In August, Petrovich began e-mailing Holmes to plan her maternity leave. In one message he wrote, "I need some honesty. How pregnant were you when you interviewed with me?"

Holmes explained that she had waited to announce her pregnancy, disclosing that she had lost pregnancies in the past. Concerned she was going to quit, Petrovich forwarded the e-mail to several people in the company involved in human resources, payroll and legal.

The Court of Appeal's ruling hinged on Petrovich Development's policy on employee use of company technological resources, which it clearly spelled out in its employee handbook. Holmes gave signed confirmation that she'd read it.

The handbook tells employees they are prohibited from using company resources for personal use and that the company may inspect files and messages at any time, including periodic monitoring to ensure compliance with the policy. It states clearly that employees who use company resources for personal use "have no right of privacy with respect to that information or message." The policy further specifies, "E-mail is not private communication, because others may be able to read or access the message."

Associate Editor

Melissa Maleske

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