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Company Settles Case with National Labor Relations Board Over Facebook Firing

Source: The Hartford Courant

Posted on 09 Feb 2011

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American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc., the company that fired Dawnmarie Souza after she posted on her Facebook page that "Frank" was a jerk has settled the case with the National Labor Relations Board.

The groundbreaking case was scheduled to go to a hearing Tuesday, where the NLRB would have argued that Souza's December 2009 firing was improper — in part because her remarks about her supervisor outside the workplace were protected, even those posted on the Internet.

Instead, the ambulance company agreed to revise its rules so that employees can discuss working conditions outside work without fear of discipline or termination. NLRB had said AMR's rules were "overly broad … regarding blogging, Internet posting, and communications between employees."

The NLRB's complaint in October against the New Haven company marked the first time the agency, which enforces laws that protect the right to organize, has argued that an employee could be protected from firing for this kind of Internet post.

Souza, a paramedic for AMR in New Haven, posted the comment on her Facebook page on the same day she was suspended from work after refusing her supervisor Frank Filardo's request to write up a report on a complaint about her performance. Management rejected her request for union representation.

The NLRB complaint has also charged that AMR "illegally denied union representation to the employee during an investigatory interview shortly before the employee posted the negative comments on her Facebook page."

Under the terms of the settlement approved Monday by Hartford NLRB Regional Director Jonathan Kreisberg, AMR promised, in addition to changing its rules on employee complaints, that it would not deny employee requests for union representation and would not threaten employees with discipline for requesting representation.

The company did not respond late Monday to a question about whether Souza will be rehired, and had said in the past that her firing was not for her

Facebook post, but for "multiple, serious issues."

In the three years before her firing Souza had missed a lot of work because of treatments and follow-up surgeries for breast cancer. Her illness was not part of the NLRB's case.

Legal experts have said the Souza-AMR case would be groundbreaking for unionized workers, but would probably not affect the rights of most nonunion workers, who typically are employed "at will," meaning they can be fired for any reason as long as it does not illegally target them on the basis of race, age or other protected categories.

Terms of the settlement, including payments to Souza and conditions she must meet, were not made public by the NLRB, which announced the settlement. The deal cancels a scheduled hearing before an administrative law judge of the NLRB, who would have decided on the NLRB's complaint.