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Do workers have any privacy rights when suing for discrimination?

| Nov 20, 2020 | Employment Law |

A Google employee recently sued the search engine giant, alleging race discrimination. He claims the employer hired him and other black workers under false pretenses. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, the employee accused Google of hiring him for one position but actually giving him a different, a type of “bait and switch” used by Google to increase diversity within the company.

A bigger question: Does the worker have any right to privacy from Google?

As part of his employment, the employee signed a contract that stated he had given up “any reasonable expectation of privacy” when using any form of “Google property.” The employee has filed a motion with the court, asking whether or not he has any expectation of privacy when using Google. The order also questions whether or not Google could use its capabilities to watch his legal team, or even the judge presiding over the case. The concerns do not seem unwarranted as the company is known for gathering search history, emails and even information within a person’s Google Docs.

Google has stated the claim is “meritless,” that it would not access the personal data of those involved in the lawsuit.

Application to other cases: Does any worker have a right to privacy from their employer during a discrimination lawsuit?

The case brings with it a larger question, one that extends beyond this specific lawsuit — how much privacy does an employee have if they are suing their employer for discrimination? The question is difficult to answer. The holding in this case will provide some guidance for future claims.

Although there are not yet clear answers on the amount of privacy protections granted to an employee in this type of situation, we know the law provides protection against retaliation. This means it is illegal for an employer to fire or otherwise negatively treat an employee because the employee has accused the employer of discrimination. As such, a court would likely find it illegal for an employer to gather such information as a result of this type of lawsuit and use it to fire or otherwise discipline the employee.