Victor Nascimento and Audry Yule, former Anheuser-Busch employees, are suing the company, claiming they were wrongfully terminated and their privacy rights were violated.
Nascimento and Yule worked at the Anheuser-Busch’s Jersey City facility. The two had been exchanging disparaging text messages about a fellow employee, Alex Davis. The messages were sent using personal cell phones on their own time, but Nascimento’s personal phone was linked to his company-issued iPad through the iMessaging application. That caused the messages to be stored on the iPad.
When the company issued a new iPad to Nascimento, it transferred Nascimento’s old iPad to Davis. The messages, as well as Nasciment’s credit card information, were still on the iPad when it was given to Davis. Davis found the texts and complained to Anheuser-Busch.
Following Davis’ complaint, Nascimento, Yule, and the others were questioned by investigators hired by Anheuser-Busch. Subsequently, Nascimento, Yule and a third employee involved in the messaging were fired for “violation of corporate policy regarding use of company equipment.”
Nascimento and Yule obtained a lawyer, who tried to engage in settlement talks with Anheuser-Busch. When that proved fruitless, they filed suit against the company in Hudson County, New Jersey. The two plaintiffs claim that the texts were private, and they were wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy. They also claim that their privacy rights were violated.
Their complaint also includes allegations that Anheuser-Busch violated a New Jersey anti-discrimination law. The plaintiffs claim that five employees were in the text conversation at issue, and that the African-American employees involved were treated differently than non-black employees. Nascimento and Yule claim that while they were fired for the texts, other African-American employees were merely reprimanded.
Anheuser-Busch is seeking to remove the suit to federal court, and will most likely try to solve the case in arbitration.
The case presents a larger issue, of how employers have to try and grapple with relatively new law and craft employee policies that specifically addresses impermissible uses of technology and various company devices.
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