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Individual alleged that former employer disclosed personal information without consent

PIPEDA Case Summary #2003-143

[Section 7(3)(c); Principle 4.3 to Schedule 1]

Complaint

A former employee of a telecommunications company alleged that his employer disclosed personal information, namely, the reasons for his dismissal, to a third party, a consumer group, during the course of legal proceedings involving the consumer group and the company.

Summary of Investigation

The complainant, who had been dismissed for cause by the company, offered to testify in a class action suit that was being launched by the consumer group. The suit concerned the charges the company levied for its services.

The employer confirmed that it had disclosed the complainant's personal information in the process of discovery, i.e., the mutual sharing of the evidence on which the parties to an action intend to rely in their representations to the court. It maintained that it had the right to produce any document relative to litigation in a court proceeding where the company was protecting its interests. The company also cited a court case which stated that in a judicial proceeding access and privacy laws cannot be invoked to prevent the introduction of evidence of a relevant fact in litigation.

Commissioner's Findings

Issued March 6, 2003

Jurisdiction: As of January 1, 2001, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (the Act) applies to any federal work, undertaking, or business. The Commissioner had jurisdiction in this case because a telecommunications company is a federal work, undertaking, or business as defined in the Act.

Application: Principle 4.3 states that the knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate. However, section 7(3)(c) states that for the purpose of clause 4.3 of Schedule 1, an organization may disclose personal information without the knowledge or consent of the individual only if the disclosure is required to comply with rules of court relating to the production of records.

The rules of court in Quebec require that if the plaintiff introduces evidence that the defendant intends to question at trial, the issue must be raised in discovery. Since the company, the defendant in this case, intended to question the plaintiff's material that was based on the complainant's statements, it was obliged to produce the appropriate evidence. The Commissioner was satisfied that the company was not responding to a demand for information when it produced the affidavit, but rather was acting in accordance with the rules of court in Quebec. He therefore found that the exception provided for in subsection 7(3)(c) applied in this case.

The Commissioner concluded that the complaint was not well-founded.

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