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Worker fired over Facebook comment settles lawsuit

Dawnmarie Souza, a former employee of the American Medical Response of Connecticut, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agreed to settle a lawsuit over Souza’s firing, which occurred after Souza used Facebook to criticize her boss.

The NLRB took up the lawsuit last year, arguing that Souza’s Facebook comments were protected by federal labor laws. The Connecticut ambulance company said that it fired Souza after receiving complaints about her work.

According to the NLRB, because Souza made the Facebook comments on her own computer and during her personal time, her words constituted protected speech. Federal law allows employees to openly discuss working conditions, wages and other work-related topics.

Details about the settlement were not disclosed, but it is known that a financial deal was reached and that Souza won’t be going back to work for the company. Also, as part of the settlement, the American Medical Response of Connecticut has agreed to revise its Internet and blogging policies, which formerly prohibited employees from criticizing the company or its supervisors.

“The fact that they agreed to revise their rules so that they’re not so overly restrictive of the rights of employees to discuss their terms and conditions with others and with their fellow employees is the most significant thing that comes out of this,” Jonathan Kreisberg, the NLRB regional director in Hartford who oversaw the settlement, told the Associated Press.

Souza, an emergency medical technician, posted a rant on Facebook in 2009 after her supervisors related complaints they had received about her work. The NLRB took up the case late last year after determining Souza’s termination was illegal.

The NLRB’s championing of the case indicates the government believes that social media sites — where posts can be seen by thousands, possibly millions of people — are valid forums for lawful criticism. However, not all work-related posts are likely to be protected by federal laws. Posts made during work and comments divulging confidential information are likely to be interpreted differently than off-hour criticisms.

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