As mentioned on WSBT, a teacher’s aide named Kimberly Hester was put on paid administrative leave and then suspended from Frank Squires Elementary School in Cassopolis, Michigan after refusing to provide direct access to her Facebook account. During April 2011, Hester had posted a picture of a co-worker as a humorous joke. According to Hester, the photo showed the co-worker with her pants around her ankles, but the photo didn’t contain any pornography. Hester uploaded the photo at home on her personal computer and included the caption “Thinking of you” within the description of the photo.
The photo came to the attention of Lewis Cass Intermediate School District superintendent Robert Colby after a parent of a student at the school viewed the photo and complained to the school district. Colby summoned Hester to his office and requested access to her Facebook account in order to view the photo.
According to Hester’s interview with WBST, she stated “He asked me three times if he could view my Facebook and I repeatedly said I was not OK with that.” As a response to not allowing a school official access hew personal Facebook account, Hester received a response from the Special Education Director at Lewis Cass which stated “…in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to your Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly.”
School district officials subsequently dismissed Hester from her position and Hester responded with a lawsuit against the school district to challenge the actions of Colby. The case is currently scheduled for arbitration during May 2012 and Hester is currently collecting worker’s compensation during the interim. When asked about her decision to bring the lawsuit against the school district, Hester stated “I stand by it. I did nothing wrong. And I would not, still to this day, let them in my Facebook. And I don’t think it’s OK for an employer to ask you.” School district officials have not released a public statement regarding the lawsuit or the current practice of requesting employee passwords for social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
While the state of Michigan has no law that prevents an employer from requesting access to social networks based on the privacy of employees, Facebook’s chief privacy officer Erin Egan was recently vocal about the rights of Facebook users and stressed that employers should steer clear of attempting to access private Facebook accounts of current or potential employees. Facebook management also warned users that sharing a Facebook account with anyone is against the guidelines of the social network.
A piece of legislation that would have prevented employers from requesting Facebook passwords was recently voted down in the House of Representatives. However, several states, including Michigan, are considering legislation designed to accomplish the same goal. According to ZDNet, Michigan State Representatives Matt Lori and Aric Nesbitt have contacted Hester in order to use her story as an example within the bill proposal that will make employer requests for social network passwords illegal.