Man, Silicon Valley is a strange place. One of the weirder sideshows there over the past few years has involved a couple of former Varian Medical Systems employees, Delfino and Day, published large numbers of internet bulletin board messages about Varian and two of its two executives. Varian and the executives sued, and Delfino responded with more messages, posting over 13,000 such messages on various bulletin boards and promising to continue to do so until they died. A jury awarded $775,000, the Court of Appeal affirmed, and the Supreme Court took it away.
So now, meet son of Varian v. Delfino and Day, yesterday’s Court of Appeal decision in Delfino et al. v. Agilent Technologies, Inc. First District Court of Appeal No. H028993. This case actually has significance for any California business running a network and providing internet access to employees (which is to say, just about all companies). Fundamentally, the facts are these: an Agilent employee, upset with Delfino and Day, sent them a bunch of threatening e-mails using his Agilent e-mail account. Delfino and Day sued Agilent for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Citing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, and several state and federal cases applying it, the Court held that an employer who provides internet service to its employees is “a provider or user of an interactive computer service” for purposes of the act, and that it was absolutely immune from suit for its employees postings using that service.
A good discussion of previous California and Federal cases on Section 230 appears in the California Supreme Court's recent decision in Barrett v. Rosenthal.