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Employers don’t face either-or decision when recovering for civil theft

A recent Colorado Supreme Court decision addressed what is known as the Economic Loss rule. Under the Economic Loss rule, a victim of wrongdoing who has a contract claim for the same wrongdoing is limited to recovering only the economic losses for breach of the contract.

In this case, an employee expected to be involved in a lawsuit with his employer. In order to prepare himself for the lawsuit, he emailed himself thousands of company emails to use as evidence. The problem was, the employer contends, that violated his employment agreement and constituted, among other things, theft from the company. When he eventually sued the company, the company counterclaimed for breach of the employment agreement, civil theft, and other claims. The employee cited the economic loss rule, saying that if what he did was wrong, then it constituted a violation of his employment agreement, and as such, his former employer was entitled to recover only the economic losses flowing from the breach of his employment agreement … not any of the other remedies available under its other claims, including statutory penalties and attorney fees.

The Colorado Supreme Court rejected the employee’s argument and held that the economic loss rule did not prohibit recovery especially under the Colorado civil theft statute. As the Court explained, the legislature had created the civil theft statute in order to impose enhanced penalties, which “strongly suggests that the section was intended to serve primarily a punitive, rather than a remedial purpose. ”

The case is a strong reminder to employees who are considering violating their employer’s rights by emailing themselves information. Employees cannot take it upon themselves to stockpile evidence in anticipated litigation. Likewise, the case is a reminder for employers who become the victims of such misconduct that they have strong legal rights of their own.

Source: Bermel v. BlueRadios, Inc., case no. 17SC246 (5/6/19).