On May 4, 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a ruling by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) against an employee of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. The individual was terminated for a laundry list of reasons, including misuse of a government vehicle, misuse of official time, and falsification of travel documents.
As part of the appeal of MSPB's decision, the individual claimed that his "guaranteed right to fundamental fairness" was violated when the deciding official Googled his name and came across information regarding his work history (essentially termination) with a previous employer. The individual claimed this unduly influenced the decision to remove him.
The court disagreed. The three-judge panel found that because information regarding the previous job loss did not influence the official's decision to remove the appellant, it did not show prejudice. Additionally, they found no due process violation.
The unanswered question here is what would have happened if the prior work history information HAD influenced the termination decision. And what if it was a hiring or promotion situation rather than a termination where voluminous information already existed regarding bad behavior? It will be interesting to see how this area of law evolves.
The appeals court decision (nonprecedential) is here.
Good string of articles about using the Internet to gather background check information can be found here.