Employers Cannot Disclose Employee’s Private Information

Melissa Ignat asked the court to rule that her right to privacy was violated when her employer, Yum! Brands, Inc. (parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and others) told her coworkers that she suffered from bipolar disorder. The California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Division Three ruled in her favor and held that an individual’s right to privacy can be violated by oral communications.

Appellant Melissa Ignat asked the appeals court to review the lower court’s grant of summary judgment. In November 2011, the lower court had found that she could not pursue a privacy action on the grounds that the right of privacy can only be violated by written disclosure, not by word of mouth. Since Ignat’s claim did not involve a written disclosure of private facts, but verbal remarks made by her supervisor, the trial court granted Yum’s motion for summary judgment based on these facts.

After returning from an absence in mid-2008, Ms. Ignat discovered her supervisor had told other coworkers in the department that she was bipolar. As a result, Ms. Ignat’s coworkers began to avoid her. One of them even asked the supervisor if Ms. Ignat was likely to “go postal” at work. In September 2008, Ms. Ignat was terminated. She then filed suit for invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts.

Recently, The Court of Appeal disagreed and overturned the trial court, stating that “we conclude that limiting liability for public disclosure of private facts to those recorded in a writing is contrary to the tort’s purpose, which has been since its inception to allow a person to control the kind of information about himself made available to the public — in essence, to define his public persona.”