What happens when a company that is being sued by a former employee who has a J.D. files a protective order to prevent her from using privileged communications, claiming she acted as a lawyer for the company so her use of the information should be prohibited? The court found that because she was neither hired as an attorney nor acted as in-house counsel for the company, attorney-client privilege did not apply.
In 2011, UniTek Global Services, a communications infrastructure company, hired Carolyn Casey as its risk management director, promoting her to vice president of safety and risk in 2012. In 2013, after Casey complained she was being paid less than her male colleagues and alleged that she was also being sexually harassed, culminating in a formal email complaint, she was summarily fired. In May 2014, Casey filed the Title VII and Equal Pay Act case, Casey v. Unitek Global Services.
UniTek filed a motion for the protective order based on the following:
- It asserted that the plaintiff was employed as an attorney and should be prohibited from using confidential attorney-client communications to prosecute the case.
- It argued that a confidentiality agreement prohibited the plaintiff from using the information she learned during her employment.
- It maintained that the plaintiff’s discovery requests were overbroad and unduly burdensome.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel (Eastern District of Pennsylvania) found that UniTek did not show good cause for the issuance of a protective order and denied the motion.
More specifically with regard to attorney-client privilege, Judge Stengel’s decision states:
“Attorney Client Privilege does not support the issuance of a protective order in this case because Ms. Casey was not Unitek’s attorney. An attorney-client relationship arises when a person manifests an intent that the lawyer provide legal services and the lawyer consents to do so.”
His decision goes on to point out that the company did not hire the plaintiff to be its attorney. Instead, it hired her to lead its risk management and safety departments. She held positions that were “separate from and not reportable to Unitek’s General Counsel.” Additionally, neither position she held required her to have any legal knowledge, “much less a juris doctor.”
“While her law degree may have been an asset to her insurance career, her professional background does not include the practice of law.
“Given Ms. Casey’s total lack of legal experience, it is simply not credible that Unitek hired Ms. Casey to be its attorney.”
The headline for a post by Faegre Baker Daniels on the judge’s decision succinctly summarizes the denied motion: “A Risk Manager with a Law Degree Is Still a Risk Manager.”