Exec. Had No Right to Privacy In E-Mails on Work Computer

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Jan. 6 — A former executive had no right to privacy in e-mails with his attorneys on his work computer system, and thus the attorney-client privilege didn't protect those e-mails from disclosure, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, held Dec. 23 in an unpublished opinion.

“It is well established that where a company employee uses the company computer system to send and receive electronic communications (emails), those emails are not protected from disclosure to the company that owns the computer system, particularly when the employee acknowledged in writing that the employee had no right to privacy when using the computer system,” the court wrote, reversing the challenged order.

The court looked to earlier appellate court opinions holding that an employee has no reasonable expectation of privacy in a computer provided by his employer (TBG Ins. Servs. Corp. v. Zieminski, 96 Cal. App. 4th 443 (2002)) and that an employee's communications with her lawyer on an employer's computer weren't protected by the attorney-client privilege (Holmes v. Petrovich Dev. Co., 191 Cal. App. 4th 1047 (2011)).

John Plueger was the chief operating officer of aircraft lessor International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC). When he resigned and became president and COO of a competing entity, Air Lease Corp., ILFC sued both.

Air Lease and Plueger moved for an order compelling ILFC to return, destroy and make no use of the contents of any communications between Plueger and his attorneys. He claimed the e-mails he sent to and from counsel were protected by the attorney-client privilege. A superior court granted his motion.

The appeals court disagreed, holding that ILFC wasn't obligated to return, destroy and make no use of the e-mails.

Thus, the attorney-client privilege didn't protect his e-mail communications from disclosure, the court ruled. It commanded the superior court to vacate its order and issue a new order denying the motion.

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