Company settles Facebook firing case

An ambulance company agrees to revise "overly broad" communications rules in settling the case of an employee who was fired after criticizing her boss on the social-networking site.

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A Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee after she criticized her boss on Facebook agreed today to settle a complaint brought by the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRB sued American Medical Response of Connecticut on October 27, 2010, claiming the employee, Dawnmarie Souza, was illegally fired and denied union representation after she posted negative comments about her supervisor to her Facebook page. According to copies of Souza's Facebook posts obtained by CNET, she called her supervisor a "dick" in one and "a scumbag" in another.

The closely watched case touched on whether employers have the right to discipline employees for comments they make on social-networking sites. The NLRB complaint said Souza "engaged in concerted activities with other employees by criticizing respondent's supervisor...on her Facebook page" on November 8, 2009. Souza was fired on December 1, 2009.

In response to the NLRB complaint last year, AMR claimed Souza's comments were not protected activity. However, the NLRB contended that AMR's termination of Souza's employment violated the National Labor Relations Act, which allows employees to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with co-workers and others.

Complicating things was that Souza, a member of the Teamsters, allegedly requested union representation during an internal AMR disciplinary process and was refused. That dispute apparently led her to post disparaging comments about her supervisor, which were posted from her home computer.

Under the terms of the settlement, AMR agreed to revise "overly broad rules" in the employee handbook regarding how employees can communicate on the Internet and with co-workers regarding their work conditions, the board said. The company also agreed to not discipline employees for requesting union representation.

AMR representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The allegations regarding Souza's discharge were resolved in a separate, private agreement between Souza and AMR, the board said in a statement. Financial terms were not revealed.