U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court: Copying Confidential Files Not OK for Title VII Claims

Catherine D. Netter had an unblemished service record for nearly 20 years at the Guilford County Sheriff's Office.

Working as a prison guard, she performed faithfully until one fateful day. She received her first disciplinary sanction, but it disqualified her for a promotion.

That's when everything started going south in Netter v. Barnes. She tried to prove discrimination, and that was the beginning of the end.

Confidential Personnel File

Netter complained that her employer discriminated against her because of her race, religion, and gender. But when it came out that she copied worker files to prove her case, the sheriff fired her.

In reviewing the claims, a judge said she had no case. On appeal, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed because Netter broke the law.

In deposition testimony, Netter said she had copied several employee files without permission. She copied them for evidence in her discrimination claim.

The Fourth Circuit said that didn't matter. North Carolina law makes it a misdemeanor to "knowingly and willfully examine, remove, or copy any portion of a confidential personnel file without authorized access."

No Lawyer Protection

It also didn't matter that Netter gave the employee files to her lawyer. There is no attorney-client privilege to violate employee confidentiality.

Not only that, her lawyer produced the files in discovery.

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