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NLRB Hears Connecticut EMT Facebook Case

There should probably be a daily reminder at every workplace in America: Be careful what you post on Facebook.

The reason? Make a harsh comment, and it just might get you fired.

In Connecticut, the National Labor Relations Board heard a case Tuesday of a woman who was fired after criticizing her boss on the popular social-networking site.

The case, which could set legal precedents for cases involving Facebook postings, dates to December 2009.

That's when a supervisor at American Medical Response, an ambulance service in the New Haven area, asked the employee, emergency medical technician Dawnmarie Souza, to write up an investigative report about a work complaint. Souza requested union representation and was denied.

The employee then went on her personal Facebook page and harshly criticized her supervisor. Her derogatory online remarks in turn drew compliments from her fellow employees.

Souza was suspended -- then fired.

The ambulance service said Souza violated company Internet policy. It also argued, according to published reports, that her firing was related to several complaints -- not just the Facebook postings.

But in a complaint brought in late November, the NLRB found the employee was illegally fired and illegally denied union representation. The complaint found Souza fell victim to what it described as an "overly broad blogging and Internet posting policy" and that her Facebook postings were "protected concerted activity."

New York and Connecticut are "at will" employment states, which means workers can be fired at any time unless they are protected.

But in the Connecticut case, other employees commented with Souza on Facebook. The NLRB is arguing that Souza cannot be fired for simply discussing the terms and conditions of her employment with co-workers.

The argument makes Facebook the equivalent of a water cooler.

The case went to an NLRB hearing on Tuesday in Connecticut, which could lead to an interesting precedent given the emergence of social networking -- and related firings.

"The (NLRB) is taking the position that all employees -- union or non(union) -- are entitled to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment," said Scott Peterson, an employment attorney with the Tully Rinckey firm in Colonie. "The issue that we're seeing is whether these comments on Facebook constituted a discussion on terms and conditions. I think this case has employers very concerned."

Federal Suit

Schenectady City Councilman Joe Allen has long lambasted city and county officials for not working hard enough to hire minorities and women.

Now he's on the other side of the issue -- at least according to a $420 million lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last week.

Larry Bratton, a former employee of the nonprofit Minority Contractors Technical Assistance Program in Schenectady, contends he was let go for giving the city and Schenectady County a hard time about doing a poor job getting contractors to hire minorities.

In court papers, Bratton charged that Allen and Olivia Adams, both members of MCTAP's board, fired him in December after Bratton filed requests for documents about the city and county's affirmative action policies. He followed up with an Article 78 action in state Supreme Court when the records were denied.

The court papers detail many other slights Bratton alleges, stating: "The city and county of Schenectady have engaged in a concerted effort to undermine affirmative action and the civil rights of minorities and routinely grant contracts and compliance waivers to those company's (sic) that refuse to employ minorities and women."

Bratton says the $420 million is intended to be a class action award that would be shared with minority contractors in the community.


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