If you vent about your job using social media, better go check those Facebook privacy settings. Why? Because the Second District of Texas/Fort Worth Court of Appeals just shot down ignorance as an excuse. It turns out that what you don’t know can get you fired.
Robert Sumien was an EMT working for Careflite. He was fired as the result of a Facebook exchange with a co-worker and then sued for wrongful termination. According to court documents:
His ambulance partner, Jan Roberts, posted a comment on the Facebook “wall” of another CareFlite employee, Scott Schoenhardt, that referenced wanting to slap a patient whom Roberts had recently transported. Delicia Haynes, CareFlite Compliance Officer Sheila Calvert’s sister, saw Roberts’s comment, was offended, and notified Calvert. Calvert, who was Facebook “friends” with Schoenhardt and, thus, had access to his “wall,” read Roberts’s comments.
After an exchange between Roberts and Calvert, Roberts posted a comment on her own Facebook “wall” stating,
Yes, I DO get upset on some calls when my patient goes off in the house and I have to have a firefighter ride in with me because I fear for MY own safety. I think that is a valid excuse for wanting to use some sort of restraints. Just saying.
In response, Sumien posted a comment on Roberts’s “wall” stating,
“Yeah like a boot to the head . . . . Seriously yeah restraints or actual HELP from PD instead of the norm.”
Haynes saw this comment, was offended, notified Calvert, and complained in writing to CareFlite management about both Roberts’s and Sumien’s comments.
Sumien sued Careflite for wrongful termination and lost. He appealed to the Second District on the grounds that he did not realize that his Facebook privacy settings would allow his employer to see his comments. The appellate court’s memorandum opinion concluded:
Finally, Sumien contends that CareFlite intruded upon his seclusion because he did not realize that Roberts’s Facebook “friends” could view the comment that he posted on Roberts’s “wall.” While Sumien presented evidence showing that he misunderstood Roberts’s Facebook settings, did not know who had access to Roberts’s “wall,” and did not know how CareFlite was able to view his comment, he did not present any evidence to show that his misunderstanding meant that CareFlite intentionally intruded upon his seclusion.
There are some obvious lessons here, like make sure you fully understand the workings of any communication platform you’re using. However, there’s an even more important lesson to be learned: Don’t post anything online you don’t want made public regardless of privacy settings. Even if your employer can’t see your comments, people can easily make screen shots that get posted elsewhere or emailed around.
Remember, the Internet is not written in pencil. It’s written in ink. And now there is court precedence saying that ignorance of the medium is no excuse.