WASHINGTON – A federal judge has refused to dismiss an invasion of privacy suit by a Landover woman who said her supervisors and co-workers eavesdropped on phone calls to her at home.
Salima Rassoull knew that her calls at work might be monitored, but U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow said there was a question as to whether she also consented to monitoring of work calls she received at her house.
The Friday ruling by Chasanow cleared the way for Rassoull’s suit against her former employer, Maximus Inc., to move to trial.
Rassoull worked for Maximus from February to May 2001 in the Ticket-to- Work program, where she fielded calls from people receiving Social Security disability payments and tried to steer them to jobs. As part of her job, she agreed that work calls could be monitored “for quality assurance purposes,” court documents said.
But the court said Maximus supervisors listened in on April 17, 2001, when a co-worker, Karen Reddon, called Rassoull, who was home sick. Their 20-minute conversation included discussion of a supervisor and of the company’s dress code, among other topics.
Court documents said supervisors listened in again the next day when Reddon called Rassoull at home, with her bosses even inviting others to listen in to that conversation on speaker phone.
When Rassoull returned to work, co-workers told her about the situation. Her attorney, Lisa Merchant, said co-workers and supervisors made it difficult for Rassoull to work at Maximus after that.
“Basically, she felt like an outcast,” Merchant said.
She said Rassoull applied for transfers to another location but was denied. The situation aggravated Rassoull’s bipolar disorder and eventually forced her to quit and seek therapy, Merchant said.
Maximus claimed that Rassoull knew her phone calls could be monitored so there was no wrongdoing on its part. It asked Chasanow to dismiss the case, arguing that Rassoull consented to the listening and the “business use” section of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act applies.
Chasanow pointed out that Rassoull did not make the calls, but received them from Reddon.
“Beyond that, the record is bereft of evidence concerning consent — either explicit or implicit — by Reddon to the monitoring of her phone calls,” Chasanow wrote.
Merchant agreed, saying that Reddon was a marketing coordinator whose calls were not subject to monitoring by Maximus.
“There was no need for a supervisor to listen to a marketing coordinator, who would not be talking to beneficiaries,” Merchant said.
Lawyers for Maximus referred all comments to company officials, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Merchant said she anticipates a settlement, but she hopes the court sees the importance of this case.
“I think that this case has implications for employee communications that the U.S. District court will be interested in hearing,” she said.