From 2000 to 2009, Christopher Coleman worked in security positions for Joyce Meyer Ministries (JMM). Starting in 2008, and while at work, Coleman used his work computer to email death threats directed at himself, his wife, and their two sons. On May 5, 2009, he killed his wife and sons in their home. Regions Bank, the administrator of the family’s estate, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against JMM alleging that JMM was negligent in failing to protect the decedents from Coleman’s threatened harm. More specifically, Regions claimed that JMM had an electronic communications policy in place that prohibited employees from, among other things, using their work computers to send harassing and abusive emails, that this policy permitted JMM to monitor and inspect any emails sent from its computers and to discipline employees for violating the policy. Regions further alleged that JMM knew that Coleman was using his work computer to email death threats to his family, and JMM failed to protect them by not enforcing its electronic communications policy and disciplining Coleman for violating that policy.
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This decision suggests that having the ability and authority to regulate computer use and not addressing violations could open the company to liability, even if the company is unaware of the prohibited activity under its internet, social media and/or computer usage policies, as JMM argued it was. Therefore, employers must be increasingly vigilant in monitoring employee use of work computers and other work-related electronic equipment and, if any violation is suspected, the employer should immediately investigate and take any and all appropriate action to remedy the violation.