After a rogue information technology specialist working for Coca-Cola gave away some of the company’s laptops containing sensitive employee information, a former Coca-Cola technician sued the company for the resulting identity theft.
But a federal judge in late March threw out the case, holding that Coca-Cola had no responsibility to prevent its employees’ personal information — like addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers — from falling into the wrong hands.
The prospective class action, filed by former Keystone Coca-Cola plant technician Shane K. Enslin, was brought on behalf of 74,000 employees whose information was stored on the laptop computers. Mr. Enslin argued that Coca-Cola laid out its duty to safeguard employee information in four documents: its job applications, code of conduct, information protection policy and acceptable use policy.
U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr. of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that none of those documents imposed such a duty on Coca-Cola.
“The fact that Coca-Cola had detailed information security policies that its employees were required to follow when handling company data does not alter the picture because, as explained, those rules clearly existed for the purpose of protecting the company from harm, not to inure to the employees’ benefit,” Judge Leeson wrote in his opinion.
“Even if an employee might be inclined to believe otherwise,” Judge Leeson added, “the fact that the company unequivocally laid out the extent of its obligations in the employee records section of the code — even if those terms did not have contractual effect — would dispel any notion that the company agreed to undertake an enforceable duty to do anything more.”
Granting summary judgment in Coca-Cola’s favor, Judge Leeson denied Mr. Enslin’s class certification motion as moot.
Judge Leeson also denied Mr. Enslin’s request to amend his claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law.
Those claims were based off a letter Coca-Cola sent informing employees the laptops were lost and that they would be given a year of free credit monitoring and fraud restoration services. It also advised employees to remain vigilant in looking out for fraud.
Mr. Enslin contended that because this required him to do work, he should be paid wages by Coca-Cola. Judge Leeson denied the request, pointing to the fact that Mr. Enslin’s argument came late in the game, and it would only add more layers of litigation to the case.
“Allowing him to amend his complaint now raises the prospect of more discovery (into either the merits or issues related to class certification, since he wants to bring these three new claims on behalf of a class), as well as a new round of class certification proceedings, placing an unwarranted burden on the court — which already managed one contentious period of discovery — as well as on Coca-Cola,” Judge Leeson said.
Donald E. Haviland of Haviland Hughes in Amber represented Mr. Enslin and said he will seek reconsideration of the ruling and, if that fails, an appeal to the Third Circuit.
“We don’t think this is over yet,” Mr. Haviland said. He also disagreed with the judge’s interpretation that Coca-Cola’s employment documents were all one-sided in favor of the company.
Mark S. Melodia of Reed Smith in Princeton, N.J., represented Coca-Cola and said the ruling was a significant victory for “common sense.”
“We have always felt that the merits of Coke’s position were clear,” Mr. Melodia said in an email. “We were particularly gratified to see that the court recognized ‘that Coca-Cola went out of its way to avoid imposing a burden on the employees affected by the lost laptops.’ “
P.J. D’Annunzio: 215-557-2315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI. To read more articles like this, visit thelegalintelligencer.com.
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