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Accessing Vehicle Records Infringes on Privacy

Employers are cautioned that employee privacy rights continue to be expanded into many different areas. Background searches of employees or job applicants should be done only after careful consideration of legal and regulatory restrictions.

December 6, 2006
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Related Topics: Labor Relations
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Cintas Corp., which designs and manufactures corporate uniforms and related materials for businesses, employs more than 28,000 people. In 2003 and 2004, two labor unions, including UNITE HERE, allegedly obtained scores of license plate numbers from cars of Cintas employees they were attempting to organize to access individuals’ motor vehicle records.

Claiming that the unions violated their federally protected privacy rights under the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act when they used the license plate numbers to get their names and addresses, the named plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. That DPPA forbids any state officials from "knowingly disclos[ing] or otherwise mak[ing] available to any person or entity personal information about any individual obtained by the department [of motor vehicles] in connection with a motor vehicle record." It also prohibits others from knowingly "obtain[ing] or disclos[ing] personal information from a motor vehicle record."

On August 30, 2006, the district court granted judgment in favor of six named class plaintiffs and three of their relatives and friends, agreeing that the union’s conduct violated the DPPA and rejecting the union’s arguments that its actions were permitted by several exceptions to the law. The district court ruled that if the union had secured information about any holder of a driver’s license, each co-owner would be entitled to a $2,500 damage award.

If class-action relief is awarded, UNITE HERE may have to pay as much as $5 million to class members. Elizabeth Pichler, et al. v. UNITE, E.D. Pa., No. 04-2841 (10/17/06).

Impact: Employers are cautioned that employee privacy rights continue to be expanded into many different areas. Background searches of employees or job applicants should be done only after careful consideration of legal and regulatory restrictions.

Workforce Management, November 20, 2006, p. 11 --Subscribe Now!

 

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