Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Man Sues for Lost Job After 'Pocket Dialing' Boss

Oh, the dreaded butt dial! There's nothing quite like gossiping about your arch nemesis and suddenly realizing it was all recorded on voicemail because you accidentally pocket dialed their best friend. Or something similar to that dramatic scenario.

A butt dial is often innocuous -- your mom gets to listen to 4 minutes of you walking to your car. But every now and then it's disastrous. A Georgia man experienced the latter when he accidentally called his boss while talking about his boss.

Boss Kept Listening

James Stephens didn't realize he had called his boss, Mike Coan, while he was in the middle of a conversation with his wife. Had he known, he probably would have stopped talking about his boss. Apparently Coan didn't appreciate what he heard, because he subsequently told Stephens he could either resign or be fired. Now, Stephens has filed a lawsuit arguing Coan violated his privacy by continuing to listen to the conversation even after he knew it was an unintentional call.

Violates Right to Privacy?

Invasion of privacy is the unjustifiable intrusion into the personal life of another without consent. There are four common types of privacy torts, but the one most relevant to the case at hand would be intrusion upon seclusion. In this tort, the plaintiff has to prove the following:

  • The defendant intruded into the plaintiff's private affairs, seclusion or solitude; and
  • The intrusion would be objectionable to a reasonable person

So, Stephens may argue that Coan's listening to the phone call was an intrusion into Stephen's private affairs, and that any reasonable person would find that objectionable.

Court Rules Pocket Dial Not Private

In 2015, the 6th Circuit ruled that someone who pocket-dials another person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in that call. The person on the other end can listen -- and even record -- all they want. The court likened it to someone who leaves their curtains open and then complains when people can see into his house from the street.

It's important to note, however, that Georgia is in the 11th circuit, not the 6th. And although the ruling is instructive, it is not binding on the 11th circuit. So, it's unclear which way Stephen's pocket-dial lawsuit against his former boss will go.

If you feel like your privacy was invaded, whether via an unfortunate pocket-dial or by some other means, contact an experienced attorney who can help you assess the strength of your case.

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