Employee fired for MySpace page sues: Who wins?

For some reason, many employees are surprised when inappropriate content they put on the Web is read by their boss or someone in upper management. A few have even sued their employers after being disciplined or fired because of it.

Jeffrey Spanierman was a non-tenured high school teacher in Ansonia, Connecticut — until he was fired because of his MySpace page.

He said he created the page to communicate with students outside of school and build a better relationship with them. But parents and school officials weren’t pleased when they saw what was on the site.

The profile, in which Spanierman called himself “Mr. Spiderman,” contained nude photos of men, foul language and inappropriate conversations with students (including one about whether a student was “getting any,” presumably referring to sex).

The school ordered him to take the profile down. He did, but he also put up an identical page shortly after and was promptly fired.

Spanierman sued, claiming his right to free speech had been violated. But the court ruled in the employer’s favor. Ir said the MySpace page was clearly inappropriate and raised doubts about his ability to do his job.

Can MySpace get someone fired?

Can businesses terminate workers based on their online activities? It’s a complicated question and one that has yet to be fully tested in court.

Things get especially tricky with public employers, who are subject to First Amendment restrictions. Also, some states have laws against terminating workers for off-duty conduct.

But as this case shows, there are limits on what employees can do online before an employer can take action. Other employees have been fired after bragging online about stealing or lying about skipping work. Some employers have let workers go out of fear that their stupidity could damage the company’s reputation.

In those situations, employers shouldn’t expect any legal trouble.

What has your experience been? Has any manager in your company come across an employee’s online profile? Has anyone been fired because of inappropriate Web content? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Cite: Spanierman v. Hughes

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