A Cobb, GA, man whose personal information was accidentally shared by a government agency lost another privacy battle in court.
The Georgia Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court’s ruling dismissing Thomas McConnell’s class action lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Labor for releasing the personal information of about 4,700 residents of Cobb and Cherokee counties.
The information was shared in 2013 when a state employee attached a spreadsheet to an email he meant to send to a co-worker. Instead, the email went to about 1,000 other Labor Department clients.
The personal information — Social Security numbers, dates of birth and names — was collected from people who had visited the Department of Labor’s Cobb-Cherokee Career Center in Marietta.
The ruling Monday said McConnell’s claim of negligence was not valid, as state or case law have not recognized a duty for the government to protect personal identifying information.
Jefferson Allen, one of McConnell’s attorneys, said his team was disappointed in the court’s decision. Allen said he believes the state does “owe a general duty not to release personal identifying information about Georgia citizens.”
“The Court’s decision suggests that when such information is released by the government, without the knowledge or authorization of the individuals whose information is released, there may be no meaningful remedy available through Georgia courts,” Allen said.
The Department of Labor apologized for the error, adding it took responsibility of protecting personal information seriously and that it was reviewing and updating its systems to ensure the mishap didn’t occur again. That wasn’t enough for McConnell who in January 2014 sued the department on behalf of himself and others listed in the spreadsheet. In his lawsuit, McConnell claimed negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and invasion of privacy, and sought compensation for the money he had to shell out for credit monitoring and identity protection services.
The agency filed a counter suit asking the Cobb County Superior Court to dismiss the lawsuit because McConnell didn’t state a claim. That court agreed, adding sovereign immunity — which protects governments from being sued unless it gives consent — did not grant the claims in McConnell’s lawsuit.
Allen said McConnell’s legal team is evaluating whether there is a room for “reconsideration or appeal.”