On February 22, 2011, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of employees of The Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc., seeking damages in excess of $5,000,000 for alleged violations of, among other things, California's identity theft law (California Civil Code 1798.85). Identity theft laws restricting the use or display of social security numbers (SSNs) have been adopted in over 40 other states.
The lawsuit alleges that Disney's practice of encoding workers' social security numbers in barcodes on their employee identification badges violates California law prohibiting a person or entity from printing "an individual's social security number on any card required for the individual to access products or services." According to the complaint, the workers' social security numbers could easily be obtained using barcode scanners commonly installed on mobile phones, including the Apple iPhone and Droid. In addition to demanding an order certifying the case as a class action (with a class estimated to consist of 20,000 current and former Disney workers), the complaint also requests injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees and costs.
Although brought in California, the Disney case is a cautionary tale for employers everywhere because most states have laws related to the use or display of SSNs. As a result, employers should think broadly as to how they use and protect the personal information of their employees to ensure that they are treating this information in compliance with applicable data protection laws.