Court: Stealing confidential docs was OK

An employee fraudulently accesses confidential company records, makes copies and hands them over to an outside party. She gets fired. Is the company the one on the wrong side of the law? In this case, yes.

Joyce Quinlan worked in the HR department at the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. After a long period of employment, she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a male co-worker with fewer qualifications and less experience.

Quinlan suspected the decision was the result of gender discrimination. While preparing to file a lawsuit, she searched through the company’s employment records to look for signs of widespread bias in the company’s hiring, firing and promoting practices.

She compiled more than 1,800 documents — many of which contained other employees’ sensitive information, such as their Social Security numbers — and gave copies to her attorney.

As an HR employee, Quinlan was authorized to have access to those documents, but company policy required them to be kept confidential. When her boss found out about her actions, she was fired.

She then sued the company for retaliation, claiming she was fired because of the discrimination suit she was planning. The company, on the other hand, claimed she clearly broke company policy by abusing her access to information and leaking sensitive data.

The case reached the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Quinlan. The court decided the company knew Quinlan’s intentions were only to give the information to her lawyer for her bias case — therefore, there was enough reason to believe the impending lawsuit was the real motivation for the firing.

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  • Bob

    I’ve been burned before commenting on cases like this taken at face value, only to find out that the facts are incomplete or incorrect.

    So for my own convenience, and in order to define scope, my comments are based on the FACE VALUE of the facts presented above, and NOT on the actual case. THUS I AM COMMENTING ON A HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION based on the facts presented ON THIS website.

    That said, her attorney should have advised her NOT to take such action, and was clearly incompetent or overstepping their bounds. The correct action would have been to file a subpoena through the company’s legal department, which would have kept her above any suspicion.

    If she’s pulling the documents on her own, that’s exceeding her authority. If her attorney files a subpoena with the court, which goes through legal and ends up on her desk as a formal request to pull the same documents, that’s well within her authority (although, technically the company should hire a third party to pull the documents at that point — it’s in their best interest to make sure the record is complete and unbiased)

    Assuming the facts are as stated, the judge ruled incorrectly