Monday, November 5, 2012

Employer Takes Over Employee's LinkedIn Account, Loses Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Claim

A case that has gained attention as of late involves an employee who filed suit in federal court citing both state and federal law--namely, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)--over the ownership of the employee's LinkedIn account created during the scope of her employment.  A District Court in Pennsylvania entered judgment in favor of the employer holding that the employee's allegations of the loss of potential business opportunities, goodwill, and/or interference with customers are not cognizable losses under the CFAA, even though it was undisputed that the employee lost control of the LinkedIn account after she was terminated. 

The facts are a bit odd and show the importance of keeping your social media completely private, even on LinkedIn even if you think it may help advance your career.  From the brief article on the case: 

This dispute involved Edcomm, a banking education company, and its former president and majority shareholder, Dr. Linda Eagle.  During Dr. Eagle's tenure, Edcomm's chief executive officer recommended that all employees maintain a LinkedIn account.  The company generally followed a policy that once an employee left the company, Edcomm effectively owned the account and could "mine" the information and incoming traffic. 
After Edcomm terminated her employment, Dr. Eagle unsuccessfully attempted to access the LinkedIn account that she developed during her employment.  The company had changed Dr. Eagle's password so that she would no longer have access and changed her profile so that her replacement's name and picture appeared instead of Dr. Eagle's.  After being unable to access the account from late June 2011 through July 12, 2011, Dr. Eagle ultimately managed to regain access but continued to be unable to receive messages for a substantial period of time thereafter.
Dr. Eagle sued Edcomm for violations of the CFAA, the Lanham Act, and several claims arising under Pennsylvania state law including invasion of privacy, misappropriation of publicity, identity theft, conversion, tortious interference with contract, civil conspiracy, and civil aiding and abetting.  Dr. Eagle claimed she suffered damages because she was unable to access her account and receive communications from clients and prospective clients. 
While the Court granted summary judgment on the employee's CFAA claim, it has allowed the state law claims to advance which may provide some protection for employees moving forward.  Very interesting case to continue watching.

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