Why it matters

Employers in California should keep an eye on a new lawsuit brought by an employee who claims she was terminated in retaliation for turning off a tracking app in her employer-provided smartphone that she said violated her privacy rights. As a sales rep at Intermex Wire Transfer, Myrna Arias was instructed to download an app that included GPS tracking. According to her state court complaint, Arias objected that the app would violate her privacy during the times she was not working. Although she initially complied and downloaded the app, she removed it a few weeks later and was reprimanded and then terminated, she alleges. In addition to invasion of privacy and retaliation, Arias asserts claims under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) as well as wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

Detailed discussion

Myrna Arias was hired as a Sales Executive, Account Manager on February 10, 2014, in the Bakersfield, California, office of Intermex Wire Transfer. Arias was recruited from NetSpend, a competitor, but Intermex agreed to let her continue working for her prior employer for a brief period to maintain her medical benefits as she was undergoing medical treatment at the time.

During her tenure at Intermex, Arias performed well, meeting her sales quotas and earning about $7,250 per month. But trouble began in April when Intermex asked employees, including Arias, to download the Xora application to their smartphones. Xora features a GPS function that tracks the exact location of the person possessing the smartphone on which it was installed. Arias and some of her coworkers questioned management about whether Intermex would be monitoring their movements while off duty.

A regional vice president admitted that employees would be monitored and, according to Arias’ complaint, “bragged” that he knew how fast she was driving at specific moments since she had installed the app on her phone. Arias said she objected to the app’s GPS function during non-work hours (analogizing Xora to “a prisoner’s ankle bracelet”) and was told she should tolerate the intrusion and keep her phone’s power on “24/7” to answer phone calls from clients.

When Arias later deinstalled the app to protect her privacy, she was “scolded” and fired just a few weeks later. Making the problem worse: she claims that someone at Intermex placed a call to someone at NetSpend and she was terminated for a second time.

Arias then filed suit in California state court. She alleges invasion of privacy based on the intentional intrusion by Intermex management during her off-duty time, including the monitoring of her driving behavior and whereabouts on weekends. “Plaintiff is unsure to what extent other managers and coworkers intentionally intruded on her privacy,” the complaint adds.

Intermex retaliated against her, Arias claims, after she complained that the company was violating her and her coworkers’ rights of privacy by requiring them to download the Xora app. She is also pursuing claims under the Private Attorney General Act, intentional interference with contract, negligent interference with prospective economic relations, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and unfair business practices.

The complaint requests economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages in excess of $500,000, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs and injunctive relief to prevent Intermex from monitoring employees’ off-duty whereabouts and conduct in violation of their rights of privacy.

To read the complaint in Arias v. Intermex Wire Transfer, click here.