Starting in 2002, in an effort to organize employees at a Cintas Corporation facility in Pennsylvania, UNITE union organizers began recording the license plate numbers of vehicles located in the Cintas parking lot. The organizers then accessed, either directly or through information brokers, state motor vehicle records to identify the employees’ names and home addresses. Ultimately, through this process, which is known as “tagging”, the union obtained the addresses for approximately 2000 workers (or their relatives or friends) and began visiting their homes with an eye toward convincing them to sign authorization cards.
Unhappy with these tactics, several employees (together with family and friends whose cars also had been “tagged”) filed a class action lawsuit against UNITE under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. That Act provides that a “person who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for a purpose not permitted under this chapter shall beliable to the individual to whom the information pertains, who may bring a civil action. . . .”
The federal district court found UNITE liable under the DPPA back in 2005, awarded most of the named plaintiffs the statutory $2,500 in damages but deferred consideration of classwide relief. Finding that the union’s organizing efforts did not constitute a “permissible use” under the DPPA, the Third Circuit, on September 10, 2008, upheld the finding of liability in a decision that can be read here. In addition, the court remanded the case back to the district court to consider whether any of the plaintiffs were entitled to multiple damage awards for multiple DPPA violations and to determine whether to hold a jury trial on punitive damages.