Firing an employee over Facebook postings might violate First Amendment freedom of speech protection. A case that could have set an important legal precedent settled out of court, with concessions to both sides diluting any ability for this case to support future wrongful termination suits involving social media.
A lawsuit filed by the National Labor Relations Board against an ambulance company last year argued that the company wrongfully fired Dawnmarie Souza for criticizing her boss on Facebook. American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. said it terminated the employee because of complaints about her work.
Under the terms of the settlement, Souza didn’t get her job back, but American Medical Response agreed to revise its policies that had prohibited staff from disparaging the company or its supervisors in postings online. The company also agreed to revise its policy banning employees from saying anything whatsoever about the employer on the Internet.
Those concessions are nice, but that’s little consolation to the woman who lost her job, even if the undisclosed financial aspect of the settlement was generous. Without a court ruling specifically in favor of one party or the other, the issue of Facebook postings as free speech protected by the First Amendment remains unresolved with respect to wrongful termination cases.
Meaning we’ll need to see another lawsuit — one that actually goes to court without settling — before attorneys have concrete case law on this issue. In the mean time, the NLRB suit will inform how companies set policies outside of the courtroom to reduce their liability to future lawsuits.
What do you think about the outcome of the NRLB lawsuit against American Medical Response of Connectcut?