• It’s common courtesy: Ask before recording calls–or risk a suit Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    For years, California law has been clear on the topic of recording telephone calls: Get the other person’s permission.

    So it was particularly surprising when Scott Gerber, communications for California Attorney General Jerry Brown, acknowledged taping news reporters without asking their permission. Of course, there isn’t enough jail space to handle people who commit felonies. So prosecutions are rare for a crime that carries misdemeanor $2,500 fines and six-month jail terms. Gerber resigned after acknowledging his boneheaded conduct.

    There are, however, civil suits. The California Supreme Court has ruled that companies from outside California face suits here for violating the statute, Penal Code 632. At least one law firm that represents corporations offers a simple solution: tell customers that the recorder is on.

    Still, breeches continue of what ought to be basic etiquette–as Los Angeles homeowners Bryce and Christina Coleman discovered.

    The Colemans received what they thought was a “perk” when they bought their first home in 2004 in the form of a home warranty plan from First American Home Buyers Protection Corp. When Mr. and Mrs. Coleman disputed First American’s charge over renewal fees, they discovered that First American had recorded their phone conversations.

    The Colemans allege in a lawsuit that Mrs. Coleman called First American to complain this summer when First American charged a monthly payment to the wrong account.  A First American employee, evidently working from a call center in Texas, replayed a tape of the earlier phone call initiated by First American to Mrs. Coleman in which Mrs. Coleman had specific which account was to be charged. 

    Though vindicated by the taped phone call, Mrs. Coleman was upset to learn that she had been recorded without her consent. The problem was magnified when she learned that First American had a policy of recording its phone calls with customers without properly notifying them, the suit says. In the Coleman’s case, they were recorded without their knowledge at least four times.

    The Coleman’s lawsuit alleges that First American violated California law by recording the calls without notifying the Coleman in advance. Los Angeles attorney Lisa L. Maki is seeking to have the suit certified as a class action on behalf of all First American customers in California whose calls were recorded without their knowledge.

    First American has denied the accusations. As for the Gerber matter, Brown’s office has declined further investigation.

    –Dan Morain

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