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Are Employees’ Social Media Connections The Property Of Their Employer?

Published by on May 15, 2012

A pending lawsuit in Pennsylvania raises the question of whether an employee’s social media connections are the property of the employee or the employer.  More after the break. In Eagle v. Morgan, et al., the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has denied in part a motion to dismiss an employer’s […]

A pending lawsuit in Pennsylvania raises the question of whether an employee’s social media connections are the property of the employee or the employer.  More after the break.

In Eagle v. Morgan, et al., the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has denied in part a motion to dismiss an employer’s claim that a former employee misappropriated and engaged in unfair competition when the former employee continued to maintain the connections she had obtained on her LinkedIn account during her employment.

Plaintiff, along with two others, owned and worked at Edcomm, Inc., which provided banking training services. In 2008, plaintiff created a LinkedIn account for the alleged purposes of promoting Edcomm’s banking education services, fostering her reputations as a businesswoman, reconnecting with family, friends, and colleagues, and building social and professional relationships. Defendant Elizabeth Sweeney assisted plaintiff in maintaining her LinkedIn account and had access to her password.

While under the management of plaintiff, Edcomm implemented a policy that required Edcomm employees to create and maintain LinkedIn accounts according to Edcomm’s specifications. Certain Edcomm employees monitored employees’ LinkedIn accounts, corrected any violations of Edcomm policy, and maintained accounts for several employees for the benefit of Edcomm. Edcomm allegedly requested and retrieved Edcomm-related connections and contents from departing employees’ LinkedIn accounts.

A company purchased all outstanding shares in Edcomm and plaintiff was terminated from her employment in 2011. When plaintiff attempted to login to her LinkedIn account shortly after she was terminated, she was unable to access the account. Plaintiff alleged that executives of Edcomm gained unauthorized access to and hijacked her LinkedIn account. Plaintiff claimed that, by using her password as provided by defendant Sweeny, defendants changed her password so she could not access the LinkedIn account and then changed her account profile to reflect the picture and name of defendant Sandi Morgan. As a result, individuals who searched for plaintiff were routed to defendant Morgan’s name and picture and plaintiff’s biographical information, including her connections. Plaintiff alleged that defendants refused to return plaintiff’s LinkedIn account to her.

Edcomm filed a lawsuit against plaintiff in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging securities fraud and breach of contract, among other causes of action. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging 11 causes of action against defendants for the unauthorized access and use of her LinkedIn account. In response, Edcomm filed a Counterclaim against plaintiff claiming that three weeks before initiating the lawsuit, plaintiff regained control of the LinkedIn account and refused to return Edcomm proprietary information on the LinkedIn account and wrongfully misappropriated Edcomm’s connections on the LinkedIn account.

Plaintiff then filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to defendants’ Counterclaim. In response, Edcomm argued that it was the rightful owner of plaintiff’s LinkedIn account connections as Edcomm’s personnel developed, maintained, and furthered the LinkedIn account for Edcomm’s sole benefit and use. Defendants further alleged that plaintiff misappropriated her LinkedIn account connections for her own use. While the district court dismissed most of the causes of action against plaintiff, the district court denied the motion to dismiss as to defendant’s claims of misappropriation and unfair competition as defendants’ allegations were sufficient to create an issue of fact as to the claims under Pennsylvania law.

The full Memorandum regarding plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss can be found here.

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