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Can federal workers sue OPM for data breach?

In 2014, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was responsible for the breach of the personal information of 21.5 million federal employees. This information was extensive and included finger prints, birth dates, social security numbers and home addresses as well as information about the individual’s mental health and finances.

Can federal employees seek relief from the OPM through a lawsuit?

Generally, courts apply a three-part test to determine if the federal employee can move forward with a case. First, the employee must establish that they suffered an injury. Second, that the accused was responsible for the injury. Third, that judicial intervention can provide relief.

In this case, the court focused on the first part of the test. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has stated that the presence of a “substantial risk” of future harm is enough to satisfy the first test noted above. Federal employees argued that they had currently undergone identity theft and that the continued likelihood of identity theft in the future was high.

The court briefly noted the second and third elements were also satisfied. For the second requirement, the federal workers stated that the loss of their information was the direct result of the OPM’s “failure to secure its information systems.” The district court agreed.  For the final element, the court noted the element was satisfied as the workers could gather information about the likely financial impact of the breach.

What does this mean?

The courts have not yet decided the case. This case was only to review the merits and determine if the case could move forward. The court decided the workers had standing and could move forward with their lawsuit against OPM.

We will provide updates on the progression of the case as they become available.

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