The constitutional right of privacy and the common-law right of privacy provide separate, albeit related, ways to ensure privacy. The constitutional variety focuses on institutional record-keeping and does not require a wide dissemination of private information. Liability for the common-law tort requires publicity; disclosure to a few people in limited circumstances does not violate the right. Moreover, the facts disclosed must be offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person. The constitutional right, however, may be violated if any private record that was supposed to be kept confidential is disclosed, for example, a college transcript.
Plaintiff, a terminated employee, sued the corporate parent of several fast food franchises and plaintiff's immediate supervisor for public disclosure of private facts. The basis of the suit was the supervisor's alleged disclosure to plaintiff's coworkers of plaintiff's bipolar condition. Concluding that the right of privacy can be violated only by writing, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and entered a judgment of dismissal. The trial court ruled that because plaintiff had not produced any document disclosing private facts, she could not pursue the cause of action.
Is a disclosure in writing required to maintain a cause of action for public disclosure of private facts?
The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of dismissal. According to the Court of Appeals, disclosure in writing is not required to maintain a cause of action for public disclosure of private facts. Oral disclosures can be just as harmful as written disclosures. However, because plaintiff did not allege a violation of the constitutional right to privacy, she was not entitled to have the summary judgment motion evaluated for constitutional privacy. As such, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly refused to consider plaintiff's arguments on this theory of liability.