Employers’ [Private] Eyes Are Watching You

Workplace privacy concerns aren’t limited to technology.  There’s been lots of buzz about GPS tracking of employees, use of biometric data in time and attendance programs, and, of course, electronic monitoring of employees’ e-mails, and Internet usage. As the case below demonstrates, privacy concerns don’t require hi-tech equipment or software.  Just a whole lot of nosey.

private investigator

A Sordid Affair

The story centers around a Wal-Mart supervisor who had engaged in an improper affair with a co-worker.  Not only was the affair illicit but it also violated Wal-Mart’s anti-fraternization policy.  The supervisor was terminated when the company discovered the relationship.  Now, the termination alone might raise a few eyebrows.  But, policy is policy, and the supervisor’s relationship was in violation of policy (as well as really bad managerial skills), the company can and should take disciplinary action. 

I Spy (well, Wal-Mart spied, actually)

Where the story becomes truly noteworthy, though, is exactly how Wal-Mart came to first learn about the “violation.”  It hired a private investigator to track the couple.  The investigator did just that; following them all the way to a rendezvous hideaway in Central America.

And Then Came the Lawsuit

The romantic and unemployed supervisor filed suit in Arkansas state court alleging violation of contract and wrongful termination based on public policy.  The contract claim was swiftly rejected.  The termination claim, based on the allegation that he was fired in retaliation for reporting Wal-Mart’s failure to comply with it’s own internal policies regarding factory certification, was equally unpersuasive.  Summary judgment was granted in favor of Wal-Mart, which was subsequently affirmed by the Arkansas Court of Appeals. 

The legal claims asserted in the lawsuit were pretty blasé when compared with the sordid facts that got him terminated in the first place.  Based on the appellate court’s decision, the claims seem doomed from the start.  I have to wonder whether the plaintiff wouldn’t have been better off asserting a state-law privacy claim. 


The case is Lynn v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 07-384 (Ark. App. Ct. Mar. 19, 2008), and a hat tip to the Workplace Profs Blog, who spotted this one back in April.

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