Can a public employer be held liable for negligence or for a section 1983 claim because the employer accidentally disclosed the names, addresses, telephone numbers, marital status and social security numbers of 1,750 former employees? An Illinois appellate court doesn’t think so.
Cooney v. Chicago Public Schools was brought to my attention by the IAPP Daily Dashboard. This featured a blog post by the Information Law Group which noted this may be the first published decision to hold there exists no common law negligence claim exists against an employer for disclosure of personal information such as address, telephone number, date of birth and even social security numbers. Plaintiffs were 1,750 former employees of Chicago Public Schools governed by the Board of Education of the City of Chicago. The Board retained a printing company to print, package and mail a COBRA open enrollment list to plaintiffs to inform them that as COBRA participants, they could change their insured benefit plans. The package, however, ended up containing the names of all 1,750 plaintiffs, as well as each of their addresses, social security numbers, marital status, medical and dental insurers and health insurance plan information. When the Board learned of the disclosure of information, it sent a letter to the former employees asking them to return the COBRA list or destroy it and offered plaintiffs one year of free credit protection insurance.
Plaintiffs filed individual and class action lawsuits alleging various state and federal causes of action including: (1) violation of the common law right to privacy; (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (3) negligence; (4) breach of fiduciary duty; and (5) violation of their U.S. Constitutional rights vis-à-vis 42 U.S.C. section 1983. The trial court granted, and the Illinois appellate court affirmed, the dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims against both the Board and the printing company. Continue Reading No Common Law Negligence Cause Of Action May Exist Against An Employer For Inadvertent Disclosure Of Private Information Concerning Former Employees; But Other Causes Of Action May Exist