A former Intel employee's right to free speech does not entitle him to use the company's proprietary email system to spread messages criticizing employment policies, a state judge in California has ruled.
The ruling, issued yesterday by Judge John Lewis of Sacramento County Superior Court, was the second setback for Ken Hamidi, the former Intel employee. In both instances, Lewis has rejected Hamidi's claim that Intel's email system is akin to a shopping mall or other forum where the former employee is free to publicly allege age discrimination and other workplace violations.
"The intrusion by Hamidi into the Intel email system has resulted in the expenditure of company resources to seek to block his 'mailings,' and to address employee concerns about the mailings," Lewis wrote in a tentative ruling. He went on to find that messages Hamidi sent on six occasions to 30,000 Intel employees amounted to trespass. The judge rejected Hamidi's argument that Intel had failed to show it was injured by the emails, noting the loss of employee productivity they caused.
Hamidi was not immediately available for comment, but on Face Intel, a Web site devoted to criticizing Intel policies, Hamidi accused Intel of using the courts to prevent him from exercising his First Amendment rights to criticize the company.
"They are pursuing legal action so that their employees don't learn the truth about their unfair policies and practices," the site said.
Free speech experts, however, saw it differently.
"People often confuse the right to express themselves freely with the issue of the mechanism with which they express themselves," said Neil Shapiro, an attorney at Landels Ripley & Diamond. "Hamidi has the right to say what he wants, but he doesn't necessarily have the right to use every conceivable mechanism" to do so.
Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said he was pleased with the decision, adding that Hamidi is free to continue criticizing Intel via his Web site and through other means. "It's important to note that from the outset, this particular case has been about trespass," he said. "It's not about freedom of speech."
The ruling was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.