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Former HR director must pay legal costs

A former human resources director who allegedly sabotaged a tech company’s computer system has failed to overturn a court order requiring her to pay her former employer over $300,000 in attorney’s fees.

On Nov. 18, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Alexandria federal judge’s decision that Lovelen Pyles owed Tech Systems Inc. $342,820 for its successful suit against her under the Virginia Computer Crimes Act.

Before the case against Pyles went to trial, a federal magistrate judge found that she had destroyed evidence of incriminating emails sent from her company-issued Blackberry phone, and ordered an adverse jury instruction on spoliation. The jury awarded TSI $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, before U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee added the company’s lawyer bill.

On appeal, Pyles said the district court erred in denying her motion as to violations of two federal statutes, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and also erred in finding that she had breached a fiduciary duty.

Pyles argued that the CFAA did not apply to her actions during her employment with TSI because, as the HR director, she had full access to the computer information. But the appeals court said Pyles had accessed both the main computer network and financial servers without authorization or in excess of her authority, and had continued to use her corporate email account and company-issued Blackberry without authorization, after she was terminated.

Although Pyles was permitted to use TSI’s email to carry out her duties as human resources manager, “she was not authorized to access the server through which the email functioned in the manner she did here,” the 4th Circuit’s per curiam opinion said.

And she breached her fiduciary duty to the company “by acting in bad faith with confidential information and by disregarding TSI’s interests in accessing the email server, resulting in damages to TSI,” the panel said in Tech Systems Inc. v. Pyles.

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