A federal appeals court on Thursday reinstated a lawsuit against an emergency medicine practice by a former worker who accused the company of violating federal law for reading her personal emails.
Amanda Carson, a physician’s assistant, worked at Greenville, South Carolina-based EmergencyMD LLC as an independent contractor from February 2014 to May 2017, according to the ruling by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Amanda Carson v. EmergencyMD LLC et. al.
When she accepted the position, she agreed to be bound by company policies, including its electronic communications policy, the ruling said.
Carson had the opportunity to use email at work while at EmergencyMD but chose, with the company̵7;s approval, to use her personal Gmail account for work tasks, the ruling said. She used a shared desktop computer to access her Gmail account while at work, it said.
After her employment was terminated, Carson went to work for her ex-husband’s company. Litigation arose between the two companies regarding unfair competition and misappropriation of trade secret claims.
During that litigation, EmergencyMD published emails it obtained from Carson’s Gmail account, some of which were dated after she was fired.
There were conflicting reports about the circumstances under which the emails were accessed, but reportedly Carson’s Gmail account had been left open on the shared work computer.
Carson sued EmergencyMD in U.S. District Court in Greenville, alleging violations of the Stored Communications Act, which protects the privacy of electronic communications.
The district court granted the company summary judgment dismissing the case and was reversed by a three-judge panel.
“We see nothing in the policy to suggest that an employee’s use of the company’s shared computer to access her Gmail account for work purposes allows EmergencyMD to access and use emails created in a private Gmail account after the employee has terminated,” the panel said. in setting aside the summary judgment and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.