|October 1, 2013|
Previously published on Fall 2013
Tech Systems, Inc. ("TSI") is a woman-owned small business located in Alexandria, Virginia. Shortly after management counseled their Human Resources Manager, Lovelen Pyles, about her work performance, the head of TSI’s IT Department discovered that someone had compromised the secure server room at TSI’s offices, physically disconnected many of the components, and otherwise sabotaged their computer system. TSI investigated and determined that Ms. Pyles had sabotaged the servers. Not surprisingly, TSI terminated her employment the following day and directed her to return her company-issued phone. But before returning her BlackBerry, Ms. Pyles forwarded emails containing TSI confidential information that she received in her role as HR Manager to other employees, vendors, and customers. Following the above-described misconduct, TSI initiated litigation in federal court alleging a number of legal claims, including a violation of the Computer Crimes Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and a breach of the duty of loyalty Ms. Pyles owed TSI.
Following a two-day trial, a jury awarded TSI $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. On August 6, 2013, the Court ordered Ms. Pyles to pay TSI an additional amount in excess of $340,000 to compensate TSI for its litigation costs. Ms. Pyles is thus facing a huge liability resulting from the jury finding that she engaged in serious misconduct.
When contacted for this article regarding what message this case sends to HR professionals, TSI's lawyer indicated that this case emphasizes the importance of keeping company information confidential under any circumstances. The case also highlights how emotional reactions in the workplace can lead to catastrophic results for both employers and employees.