Fired for having a sassy Web page?

by on June 20, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

Based on the facts below, how do you think the courts ruled in this employment-law case?

“Somebody tipped me off about your web page,” supervisor Ted Karpinski told employee Bradley Burns. “You need to either take all those references to our company off it, or take the page down entirely. We have a policy about not using our logo, or pictures of employees in company uniform, on private web pages. And it’s certainly not any more acceptable when your page makes such a big deal about your, uh, activities.”

“You mean my female impressionist work,” Bradley said. “I’m not surprised a straight arrow like you wouldn’t get it. Why don’t you just admit you can’t stand to be publicly associated with somebody who’s openly gay?”

Harm to the business
“I never said a word about anyone’s personal choices or orientation,” Ted said. “We just don’t want the company linked with images that can harm our business.

“Also, I need to ask you not to discuss this matter with your co-workers,” Ted continued. “It should remain confidential.”

“I’ll discuss what I want with whom I want. And I’m not sticking around to be insulted,” Bradley said, moving toward the street door.

“If you walk out that door I’ll have to fire you for insubordination,” Ted warned.

“If you do, you’ll be sorry,” Bradley shot back. “You’re anti-gay and anti-free speech.”

Bradley walked out and Ted fired him. Bradley sued for sex discrimination. Did he win?

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The decision
No, Bradley didn’t win his discrimination lawsuit. First, the judge said, federal law doesn’t bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Beyond that, the judge said, Bradley’s “insolence and insubordination” gave Ted ample reason to fire him, unrelated to his sexual orientation or his web postings.

Bradley also claimed the company violated his First Amendment rights to free speech, but as the judge pointed out, speech rights don’t extend to private workplaces. Ted had every right to insist that the company not be depicted on Bradley’s web page.

Don’t take the bait
The supervisor in this case acted appropriately and didn’t allow himself to be baited into a discussion of the employee’s personal proclivities. Insubordinate employees will often try to embroil supervisors in escalating discussions of emotional or irrelevant points. Don’t be reeled in.

Cite: Dudley v. 4-McCar-T, Inc., No. 7:09-cv-00520, W.D. Va., 5/4/11. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

photo credit: one22andan8th

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