Labor and Employment Law
Bartender and Waitress Claim Illegal Firing Because of Online Beefing
Posted Apr 23, 2009 8:24 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A former bartender and waitress at a Houston’s restaurant in Hackensack, N.J., will square off against their one-time employer in a June 9 trial of their claims that they were illegally fired for airing their beefs on MySpace.
Bartender Brian Pietrylo and his girlfriend, waitress Doreen Marino, made negative comments about supervisors and made fun of Houston’s décor and customers, the Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.). The comments were made in a discussion group that could be accessed by invitation only. Houston supervisors accessed the site using login information of a restaurant hostess.
The suit claims managers violated federal wiretapping statutes when they accessed the discussion group and violated the employees' privacy rights under New Jersey law.
Many employees are aware that their communications at work may be monitored, but they don’t expect comments outside of work to be viewed, according to the story. The New Jersey case raises the issue whether employers can fire based on such outside activities.
“The legal landscape is murky” on the issue, the story says. In most states, employers can fire nonunion workers without any reason. State laws in California, New York and Connecticut, however, protect employees who engage in lawful activities outside of work.
But private employees may have privacy rights, even in states without such laws, according to First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams of Cahill Gordon & Reindel. "The question is whether employees have a right to privacy in their non-work-created communications with each other. And I would think the answer is that they do," he told the Wall Street Journal.