In a new decision from a Pennsylvania federal court, a fired employee lost her claim for damages after her former employer changed her password and took over her LinkedIn account. After a merger, the head of the company, Dr. Linda Eagle, was forced out. Her assistant, who had access to the account, promptly changed her password, as well as the name and picture on the account. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Actdoes not help her, the court decided. While the company had accessed and controller her account for a “brief period,” the types of damages that the plaintiff identified are not recoverable under theat particular law. The CFAA allows damages for losses relating to the impairment or damage to a computer or computer system. But a claim for lost business opportunities is not in the same category. Even if they were, the court continued, the plaintiff was not able to quantify the damages. This problem regularly occurs when someone tries to show lost income from a new business venture.
While her lost opportunities can’t be the basis of a CFAA lawsuit, the employee will get a trial on her state law claims, which begins tomorrow.
Many employees and employers have agonized over who owns such intangible property as phone numbers, email accounts, and linked in contacts. The value of future opportunities are hard to value, but everyone agrees that they do have value. The rules are still being worked out, but it is going to be most difficult in situations such as this, where an employee’s personal and professional contacts are contained in a single social media account.