Eagle v. Morgan: Employer Access to Employee Social Media Accounts

The case of Eagle v. Morgan is about an employer’s access to employee’s social media account. This case highlights the importance of companies having social media policies to address the ownership of social media accounts during and after employment.

What is the case about and how does it affect your rights?

In Eagle v. Morgan, the plaintiff (i.e., Linda Eagle) had founded the company Edcomm, Inc. (“Edcomm”) and remained an employee when she sold her shares to Sawabeh Information Services Company (“SISCOM”). While employed at the company as CEO, Eagle’s coworker recommended creating a LinkedIn account for marketing purposes. Although, the business would occasionally become involved in the social media account’s content, and Eagle used her company email address, however, she was individually bound by the User Agreement and had made connections through her own efforts. Edcomm did not require its employees to have social media accounts and had only limited guidelines in place regarding employee use of LinkedIn. When Linda Eagle’s employment was terminated, the question of who owned the social media account became an issue. Edcomm changed Linda Eagle’s password by using her former company email address and replaced her name with that of her new replacement, i.e., Sandy Morgan.  Linda Eagle sued Edcomm and multiple defendants in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She claimed that this was an infringement of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Lanham Act, as well state laws against invasion of privacy by misappropriation of identity, conversion, civil conspiracy, civil aiding and abetting, tortious interference with contract, unauthorized use of name in violation of Pa. C.S. § 8316, misappropriation of publicity, and identity theft under Pa. C.S. § 8316.

How did the court rule and what were the repercussions?

The court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the defendants, stating that there was no violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Lanham Act. However, the state law claims were allowed to proceed to trial. The court found that plaintiff sufficiently proved that the company had violated her privacy and had misused her large number of networking connections on the social media account. This is because the company had no social media policies in place to support its claim of ownership over the social media account. In spite of the court’s finding that the company was in violation of the state laws, the resulting ruling was in favor of the defendants because plaintiff was unable to show any quantifiable damages.  Her claim to damages was that her annual income from her 4000 LinkedIn connections amounted to $1,000,000 per year or $250 per contact annually. The final claim was for $250,000 because the loss of income from being without her account for three months was calculated based on previous estimations. The court found the calculations had no supporting evidence and were speculative. Although, Edcomm was able to avoid paying for its violations, had the plaintiff been able to prove damages there would have been a different outcome.  Hence, in order to avoid legal claims, companies should implement explicit social media policies.

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