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Third Circuit Court permits employer to search worker’s e-mails

(12/12/2022) -- On Dec. 10, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer did not violate the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when it accessed an employee’s e-mails located on the company’s central file server. In Fraser v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., the court ruled that the employer did not violate the ECPA because it did not “intercept” Fraser’s e-mails at the initial time of the transmission. The Court also ruled that the employer was not liable for a civil suit under Title II of the ECPA for accessing the e-mails without authorization because of an exception in the law that allows seizures of e-mail “authorized ‘by the person or entity providing a wire or electronic communication service.’” The Court said:

“Thus, we hold that, because Fraser’s e-mail was stored on Nationwide’s system (which Nationwide administered), its search of that e-mail falls with § 2701 (c)’s exception to Title II.”

Fraser sued Nationwide for wrongful termination. Fraser contended that he was terminated because he filed complaints with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office regarding Nationwide’s allegedly illegal conduct, including its discriminatory refusals to write car insurance for unmarried and new drivers. Nationwide contended that Fraser was terminated because he was disloyal.

The Court also rejected Fraser’s claim that he was protected under whistleblower laws because his case did not meet any of the exceptions in which public policy would prevent wrongful termination of an at-will employee.



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