Dismissal of Claim Against Georgia Department of Labor for Inadvertent Disclosure of Private Information Dismissed by State Supreme Court

There are many different types of Atlanta employment law claims – employment discrimination, retaliatory discharge, and sexual harassment, just to name a few.

Workers’ compensation claims and even unemployment law claims can also occur because of things that occur in the workplace.

A recent claim by a worker – who sought to have his action certified as a class action – involved alleged negligence by the state in the handling of certain personal information obtained as part the workers’ claims for unemployment benefits or other services.

Facts of the Case

In a recent Georgia Supreme Court case, the plaintiff was one of some 4757 individuals whose name, social security number, home telephone number, email address, and age were “inadvertently” sent, without the individuals’ permission, to over a thousand recipients. The plaintiff sued the defendant state labor department, asserting claims for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and invasion of privacy. He also proposed a class action suit to include all similarly situated persons.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit, asserting that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiff’s lawsuit insomuch as the State of Georgia had not waived immunity for the losses complained of by the plaintiff in his suit. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The plaintiff appealed. The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed, addressing only the trial court’s decision that the plaintiff’s complaint failed to state any viable claims for relief (pretermitting a decision on the sovereign immunity issue).

On further appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, the court reversed and remanded with instructions to make a determination as to whether the plaintiff’s suit was barred by sovereign immunity. On remand, the court of appeals ruled that the trial court had erred in concluding that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiff’s complaint but nevertheless agreeing with the trial court that the plaintiff’s complaint had failed to state a claim for relief. Both parties filed petitions for certiorari.

Decision of the Court

The state supreme court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals had been correct its determination of the issues. Because the plaintiff’s claims for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and invasion of privacy sounded in tort,, were based on the conduct of a state employee while acting within that employee’s scope of employment, and did not fall within an express exception or limitation in the Georgia Tort Claims Act, the court concluded that defendant’s immunity had been waived. Thus, the supreme court opined that the plaintiff had carried his burden of showing that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over his claims.

As to the merits of his suit, however, the supreme court agreed that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim for relief. In so holding, the court noted that plaintiff had not shown that the defendant owed him or others a duty enforceable in tort to refrain from negligently disclosing their information, had failed to establish that a fiduciary relationship existed between the parties, and had not shown a public disclosure of embarrassing private facts.

Schedule an Appointment with a Georgia Employment Law Attorney

If you think you have a claim against your employer for discrimination, harassment, wage and hour violations, or other misconduct arising from your employment, you should talk to an attorney. John M. Mays at the Parks, Chesin & Walbert firm in Atlanta is currently reviewing new Atlanta employment law cases. For an appointment to learn more about Attorney Mays’ services, call 404-873-8048 today.

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