For 12 minutes, James Stephens ranted to his wife about his boss. Then he realized that while he was ranting, he had pocket-dialed the man, Georgia Subsequent Injury Trust Fund Director Mike Coan, who heard the whole conversation. According to Stephens, who lost his job, that means Coan broke the law. In a civil lawsuit highlighted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Stephens says Coan violated his privacy and Georgia's eavesdropping law by not hanging up when he realized the call from his employee was a mistake. "Rather than simply hang up, [Coan] proceeded to violate Georgia law by intentionally acting in a clandestined manner and listening in to a private conversation between Mr. Stephens and his wife Gina inside the Stephens' private residence," his complaint states.
The state law is clear on cases where a person uses recording devices to eavesdrop on a private conversation. "It's an inadvertent pocket dial where it makes the question a little more gray," a civil rights attorney tells the Journal-Constitution. Stephens' attorney says the case could reshape Georgia law. But Coan—a former state lawmaker who oversees workers' compensation claims, per the AP—is adamant he wasn't in the wrong. He heard the call as a state employee "acting within the scope of his official duties," his lawyer says. He also explains why Stephens was told to resign or be fired: "Given Stephens' opinions and criticisms of Coan," it was clear the pair "could no longer have an effective working relationship and Coan could not trust Stephens as a subordinate."