Facts of the Case
The employees of Hillsides were warned against watching and obtaining pornographic content using the office computers. The information was communicated by August 22, 2002. The policy also mandated Hillsides staff to log in to their computers using passwords and to always sign out at the close of the day. The computer specialist, Foster, would frequently check the computers and download a list of websites accessed by the employees.
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When checking the computers, the specialist found that the computer in the laboratory and one belonging to Lopez had been used in violation of the email circulated, as they had been used to access pornographic websites in the night after work hours. The administration did not suspect Lopez because it was used during the hours after she and Hernandez, whom they shared an office with, had left the office. In order to establish who had used the computer to access the pornographic websites, Hitchcock decided to install surveillance cameras in Lopez and Hernandez’s office without informing them to avoid gossip around the office that would alert the culprit.
The cameras were switched on at the end of the day after Hernandez and Lopez had left and off by the time they reported to work. The cameras did not reveal anyone accessing the computer at night. The two employers noticed that they were being monitored by cameras when they saw one camera blinking and it appeared to have been on for a while. Hernandez feared that she could have been watched secretly while changing into her gym wear because she would change her clothes in the office. Hitchcock explained that it was switched on after they left the office and nowhere did they appear on the recordings.
Procedural history: The trial court found no intricate intrusion on the part of the defendants and filed a summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court supported the company’s position that it did not violate Lopez and Hernandez’s privacy. The case was dismissed. However, this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal.
The company claimed that it did not install the cameras for purposes of spying on Lopez and Hernandez. However, the plaintiff claimed that the company did not respect their right to privacy because the cameras gave the company the advantage of secretly seeing and recording their movements in the office. This action violated the California Constitution, whose Art. 1, § 1 guarantee privacy to everyone. Under the common law, Hillsides had intruded into the privacy of the two employees because they intentionally installed the cameras in a place where the employees were expected to enjoy privacy. Moreover, the violation was offensive in nature, given that it exposed Hernandez when changing her clothes for the gym.
The court applied the facts of the case to the laws mentioned above to establish whether the videos had intruded on the privacy that was reasonably expected.
The court considered the fact that the employees in an enclosed office could not reasonably expect their personal business in the office to be viewed by the intruders, despite the fact that it was a shared office and could be viewed by the person whom the office space is shared with. The defendants, however, never viewed the cameras at the time when the plaintiffs were in the office. However, they hid the video equipment from the plaintiffs’ view. If Hillsides had asked the occupants of the office for their consent before installing the cameras, then there was the likelihood that they would not nab the person who violated the pornography rule because the information would spread to everyone in the office.
The court did not find the conduct of the defendants highly offensive or constituting an egregious violation of prevailing social norms. Therefore, it reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal.