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Tag Archives: wrongful termination

High School Terminates Woman Over Facebook Photo

Boyfriend Who Appeared in Picture Remains Employed

While surfing through the news this evening, I came across an interesting story that may form the basis for a lawsuit.  A man and woman were employed by a high school in Pocatello, Idaho.  (Am I the only one thinking of the B-52s right about now-one).  At this point, I should use caution in my grammar.  The man is employed by Pocatello High School.  The woman was employed by the Pocatello High School.  The man coached the football team, over the years won more than a few championships, and is in the high school football coach hall of fame.  The woman was the coach of the woman’s basketball team.  They are engaged to one another and during a family gathering over the summer someone took a photograph in which the man is holding the woman’s breast.  The photo was posted on the woman’s Facebook page.  Within 24 hours, the woman removed the photo from her page.  Nevertheless, the damage was done.  The school fired the woman and reprimanded the man.  While the man was guilty of holding, the school maintained that the woman had engaged in immoral behavior.  The school is not criticizing the woman for the picture.   Rather, it terminated her for posting the photograph on Facebook.

 

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Despite the public outrage surrounding the story, the school is asserting that it made the right decision to fire the woman and reprimand the man.   A grievance of the woman’s dismissal is pending.

It is not clear whether the woman would prevail in a discrimination case.  From the comments that I have read, if this case were submitted to the court of public opinion, Pocatello High School would be in big trouble.  In cyberspace, everyone has an opinion and I comments supporting the high school are few and far between.

Sex or gender discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of that person’s sex.  The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.  If you need to talk to a labor and employment attorney about discrimination or wrongful termination, call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

 

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Lessons on Sexual Harassment and Retaliation After Beavis and Butthead Attend a Conference

Though I have not seen Beavis and Butthead in nearly 20 years, I am familiar with their middle school humor.  Over the last week a situation played out that illustrated what would happen if Beavis and Butthead attended a Tech Conference.

Last week a woman by the name of Adria Richards, employed by a company called SendGrid, attended a conference called PyCon.  From the photos, it looked like the conference had a few hundred (if not more than a thousand) attendees.  Beavis and Butthead (not their real names – huh huh) happened to be sitting behind Ms. Richards.  As the speaker started making technical references that I admit I know nothing about, Beavis and Butthead started cracking jokes.

Ms. Richards became annoyed and decided to alert the organizers of their conduct.  Ms. Richards snapped a photo of the two men and attached the photo to a tweet of the jokes with the #pycon hashtag.

Soon thereafter the organizers removed the men from the conference.  Upon returning to work, one of the men learned that he was losing his job.  Right decision by employer? Probably not. But see my other posts on the at-will doctrine.

Now things really started to get weird.  The Tech World did not take too kindly to the employment decision.  Instead of going after Beavis’ employer, they went after Ms. Richards.  She received death threats, rape threats, racial slurs including the N-bomb, and anti-semitic remarks.  A few even publicized her personal information. 

Ms. Richards’ employer was not oblivious to the firestorm, having received their own hate mail.  So in the middle of last week, SendGrid published a message on their blog and Twitter stream announcing the termination of Ms. Richards’ employment. (??!!).  While many in the Tech World celebrated her termination, others are left scratching their heads.

Having read this story from a number of sources, I could not help but think about its legal implications. 

Although Beavis and Butthead’s conduct falls in the realm of harassment, it is doubtful that she would prevail if she pursued a harassment claim.  Not only is an employee required to show unwelcome sexual conduct, he or she must also show that the conduct was so severe or pervasive as to create a hostile environment.   Putting up with Beavis and Buthead jokes 8 hours a day, 5 days a week may create a hostile environment.  However a few jokes here and there – huh huh – or isolated sexual remarks are not enough to get your case before a jury.  It is also worth noting that the conference organizers took prompt, remedial action upon learning of the harassment.

Retaliation law presents a more difficult question.  Retaliation occurs when someone asserts his or her rights under harassment law – i.e. complaining about harassment – and the employer takes adverse action for engaging in the protected activity.  With respect to Ms. Richards’ case reasonable minds or a room full of highly talented employment attorneys could differ.

Notwithstanding the viability of any employment claim, it looks like SendGrid created more problems than expected by firing Ms. Richards. It did not take long for this story to go viral with it getting picked up by USA Today, Forbes, Ebony, and the first page/first story of Yahoo.

For whatever it is worth, the HR and legal teams in the Tech World need to engage in a massive mobilization effort to train employees and management on harassment law.  As for Ms. Richards and Beavis, I am sure both have impressive backgrounds and it should not take them long to secure employment elsewhere.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Wrongful Termination, At-Will Employment and Girl Scout Cookies

A month ago, I was at my mechanic’s garage to have some work done on my car.  He happened to have Girl Scout Cookies on display.  He asked if I wanted to by some.  I told him that I already bought some from a neighbor.  He said, I can get to your car faster if you buy some cookies.  Ha! Ha! Good one Joe.  I should have taken him up on the offer, because in less than a day the two boxes of cookies were gone.  I have a preteen son who eats like a teenager.

This morning I came across this article about a woman who was fired (or as my British friends would say “got the sack”) because she was selling Girl Scout Cookies at work.  It appears that she worked at American University’s Campus for a company called Bon Appétit.  The employee worked on the campus for 28 years and for Bon Appétit for 12 years.  Over the last three years, she displayed the Girl Scout Cookies to help her daughter.  This year, Bon Appétit decided to fire her.  The manager accused her of “gross misconduct by soliciting and operating a personal cash business selling girl scout cookies over the counter which violates company policy.”

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I am not sure about you, but I feel bad for the employee.  She was not doing this for profit.  She was helping the Girl Scout, and her daughter by selling cookies.  Was the sale of Girl Scout Cookies really a conflict of interest?  Would a boxes send Bon Appétit  into bankruptcy court?  To be clear, how many times have you seen parents bring fundraiser items for their children to work – cookies, popcorn, candles, etc.  Too bad there is no avenue by which she could sue.

Unfortunately, the at-will doctrine favors the employer.  Paraphrased the doctrine says, an employer can terminate an employee for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all.  I understand there are some that say she should have been fired, and only kids, not their parents should be selling Girl Scout Cookies.  Realistically, in virtually every city across the country there is little doubt that these sales are going on in the workplace.  Perhaps today many will say bad things about Bon Appétit.  Months from now, however, Bon Appetite’s arguably unfair position will be forgotten and the employee will still be out of work.

If you have questions about the at-will doctrine, wrongful termination or other employment law issues, call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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What Every Employee Should Know About the At-Will Employment Relationship

In Florida, most employees are considered at-will employees.  This means that the employer or employee may terminate the employment relationship for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all.  Although I wrote the employer or employee, for all practical purposes this arrangement favors the employer rather than the employee.

The employee, on the other hand, is not under an obligation to remain at the employer’s place of business.  For example, if an employee has a job offer waiting at another company he or she does not have to give two week notice.  An at-will employee could say, “today is my last day of work” and leave.  As noted above, there are little benefits for the employee under the at-will doctrine.

Many employees in Florida make the mistake of saying, I have no rights because we are in a right to work state.  While the employee is correct in noting that Florida is a right to work state, there is a difference between “employment at-will” and “right to work.”  The “right to work” concept applies to the role that labor unions play in the employment relationship.  Unlike some states in the North East or Mid-West, there are very few labor unions in Florida because it is a “right to work” state.   By definition, “right to work” means an employee can work anywhere in the state of Florida without being forced to pay union dues.

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Back to the at-will doctrine, power lies in the hands of the employer.  All is not loss for the employee.  There are a number of laws by statute and court decisions that protect the employee.  The big one is discrimination law.  Generally speaking the question is whether the employer illegally discriminated against the employee or potential employee based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age or disability.  Among other things, discrimination law touches on hiring, firing, transfers, promotions, demotions and layoffs.

An employee should also understand that he or she has rights under retaliation law.   Retaliation law protects employees from being fired, demoted, harassed, or otherwise “retaliated” against because they filed a charge of discrimination or because they complained to their employer about a discriminatory practice.

Whistle-blower law is very similar to retaliation law.  There are number of state and federal laws that provide whistle blower protection to employees.    Whistle-blower law may be triggered if you report or refuse to participate in illegal activity.  Generally, an employee will be required to make his or her complaint in writing to be protected under a whistle-blower statute.

Contract law is another option for consideration by the employee.  If you are under a written contract, there is a very good chance that you will have greater rights than an at-will employee.   Many contracts will have language indicating that an employee may be terminated for just cause.   Just cause usually involves some form of misconduct by the employee that would support termination.  If an employer cannot show just cause, an employee who is terminated early may have a claim to recover damages through the end of the contract period.

While employees recognize that Florida is a “right to work”  [sic] “at-will state,” there may be avenues available to recover for wrongful termination.  If an employee believes his or her termination is illegal, the best thing to do is schedule a meeting with a labor and employment attorney to discuss potential claims.  I can be reached at (813) 413-2402.

 

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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Filed Against Christian College By Gloria Allred

Gloria Allred filed a lawsuit on behalf of Teri James, a pregnant employee who was terminated by San Diego Christian College for engaging in premarital sex.   Rumors began to spread at San the school when James appeared to be pregnant.  James, who was single at the time, met with her supervisor and human resources director and admitted to being pregnant.  The college has a community covenant and student handbook that states Biblical character is highly valued and desired.  The handbook also indicates that the school frowns upon sexually immoral behavior, including premarital sex.

Ms. Allred revealed the basis for suing when she stated:

They can call themselves a Christian college, but they have to comply with the laws of the state of California, which prohibit discrimination on account of gender, marital status and pregnancy, and with the California constitution, which guarantees the right of privacy.

In most states, I would think that Ms. James would have an uphill battle.  For example, I am aware of at least one case in Florida where a young lady who worked for a Christian high school was unable to obtain unemployment benefits after she was terminated for sharing an apartment with her fiancé.  In Florida, it is rare for an employee to be denied unemployment benefits unless the employer can show some form of misconduct.  If she could not win before the unemployment appeals referee, there is no way she would prevail in court arguing gender, marital and pregnancy status, and privacy.  On the other hand, since Ms. James is in California, I would not be surprised if the court ruled in her favor.

 

See: Woman Legally Fired For Living With Boyfriend from 2011

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Lawsuit Appears Imminent in Rob Turner Harassment Case

In my previous post, I noted that Ms. Carolyn Filoppone is considering a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office and Rob Turner.  The filing of the lawsuit appears imminent.  In addition to working with Steve Wenzel, Ms. Filoppone has added Chris Jayson to her legal team. See Woman Considers Wrongful Termination Suit Against Rob Turner, Who Sent Her Porn.

The County should not overlook the price tag of defending Kevin White a few years back and govern itself accordingly.  The taxpayers will not be happy if another $500,000 is expended in defending Mr. Turner and his office.

Bradford & Bradford practices in the areas of Wills, Trusts, Probate, Estate Planning, Family Law, Employment Law and General Civil Litigation. If you have questions any of these areas, feel free to call at (813) 413-2402.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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