Legal Question in Employment Law in California

I contacted a previous employer to get my W-2, who did not have my current address. The accountant said she would email me a copy and accidentally emailed me EVERY SINGLE PERSONS W-2 in the company, which is 122 employees, with all their social security numbers and information. I was extremely upset about the situation and was worried my information may have been sent to other parties as well. I told my ex-coworker what had happened, as she still works there, in an attempt to determine if she had received similar information or had heard that anyone else had. I did not share the information contained within the W-2's with anyone, only the knowledge that I had received the information.

Yesterday I received a letter from my ex-employers attorney, threatening to sue, and I am not sure what to do at this point. I don't know how to respond and I wanted to talk to an attorney before I do. Did I violate any laws by telling my ex-coworker I had received the information although I did not share the information with anyone? Please help.

This is the letter I got yesterday from an attorney:

"It has come to our attention that a PDF file containing private information about [The Company's] employees was mistakenly emailed to you. It has also come to our attention that you shared the information you received with other third parties.

Please be advised that the information you received is private and confidential information regarding third parties. As a result of the confidential nature of the information involved, you have no right to retain or disseminate this information to anyone. YOU HAVE A DUTY TO IMMEDIATELY DESTROY THIS INFORMATION.

[The Company] requests that you provide my office with a list of individuals who you have shared this information with and declaration from you, signed under penalty of perjury, indicating that you have destroyed all information you received from [The Company] no later than Friday, February 17, 2012 at 4:00pm.

In the event you fail to destroy this information and provide us with the information requested above, [The Company] will pursue legal action against you and will seek all available remedies provided by the law including, but not limited to, monetary damages and injunctive relief. Additionally, if [The Company] is forced to intitiate legal action against you, it will be seeking its attorney's fees and costs against you personally. The fees and costs relating to litigating claims involving violations of third parties can be tens of thousands of dollars. I urge you to immediately destroy this information and provide our office with the information requested above by February 17, 2012 at 4:00pm."

Asked on 2/15/12, 10:32 am

2 Answers from Attorneys

Michael Kirschbaum Law Offices of Michael R. Kirschbaum

This appears to be a typical scare tactic lawyers often use. It has apparently worked.

While it is doubtful a lawsuit will be filed, no one can make such a guarantee. It probably should be responded to by explaining what really happened. But if they insist the documents be destroyed there is no reason not to comply because you cannot keep them. Alternatively, they can be returned to the lawyer's office.

You can either reply yourself or hire a lawyer to do it for you. But I see no reason why you cannot simply call the lawyer and set him straight. Most lawyers are easier to talk to live. The nasty letters are usually for show.

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Answered on 2/15/12, 2:55 pm

Agreed. Your former employer is trying to scare you, because it is scared. It is the employer who has a duty to maintain the confidentiality of this information, not you, and the employer who has breached this duty, not you. Just return and destroy the information, and explain (in a cover letter) that you have returned and destroyed everything given to you and that you have not shared any of the information that the employer was obligated to maintain the confidentiality of with any third parties, and this will most likely just go away.

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Answered on 2/16/12, 10:46 am

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