Facebook Dustup Wasn't the Sole Reason for Firing
(CN) - A New Jersey hospital properly fired the nurse who had become something of a disciplinary problem after a Facebook rant got her suspended, a federal judge ruled.
Deborah Ehling, a registered nurse and paramedic at Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp., had taken to Facebook after 88-year-old James von Brunn stormed the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and opened fire, killing a guard before he was taken down.
Though this incident occurred on June 10, 2009, the court dated Ehling's Facebook post as June 8.
Noting that the "sociopath white supremacist" survived the altercation, Ehling wrote: "I blame the DC paramedics. I want to say 2 things to the DC medics. 1. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? and 2. This was your opportunity to really make a difference! WTF!!!! And to the other guards....go to target practice." (Punctuation in original.)
Ehling had about 300 Facebook friends at the time she made the post, and fellow paramedic Tim Ronco sent screenshots of it to hospital management.
The Neptune City, N.J.-based hospital temporarily suspended Ehling with pay for her "deliberate disregard for patient safety."
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) later found that the hospital violated neither the National Labor Relations Act nor the nurse's privacy, but Ehling continued to get written up at work.
During her seven years there, Ehling's disciplinary record grew to include multiple warning notices for lateness, inaccurate timesheets and numerous unauthorized medical leaves.
In May 2011, Ehling refused to respond to a 911 call for a critically ill infant on May 8, 2011, citing Family Medical Leave Act "reasons." She never supported her claims with a doctor's note, however, and instead filed suit a month later.
Ehling continued, however, to accrue disciplinary infractions and won a two-day suspension in July 2011. The hospital nevertheless agreed to stay the suspension and wipe it from her record if she fell in line. Two days later, Ehling skipped work to attend a "metaphysical seminar" featuring purported psychic medium James Van Praagh. Again she cited "FMLA" reasons, and came late to work over the following days.
Though the hospital fired Ehling within a week, upper management stayed her termination.
Ehling exhausted her 12 weeks of FMLA leave months later, but the hospital's executive director of administration, Stacy Quagliana, applied for a special 90-day personal leave of absence on Ehling's behalf, set to expire in January 2012.
Ehling then she would not return before March but refused to fill out accommodation forms. Since Ehling had neither returned to work nor filled out the forms, the hospital fired her on Feb. 7. A month later, her attorney withdrew and was replaced by her brother.
U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed Ehling's claim under the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act months later.
Last week, the court granted the defendants summary judgment on the remaining claims, which alleged invasion of privacy and violations of the Federal Stored Communications Act, FMLA, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
"Under the FMLA, defendants clearly had a right to request FMLA certifications and re-certifications from plaintiff, and to reject the insufficient certifications that she submitted," Martini wrote. "In fact, given the circumstances, defendants were extremely accommodating of plaintiff's many FMLA requests."
Ehling failed to show that access to her Facebook page was unauthorized.
"The evidence does not show that defendants obtained access to plaintiff's Facebook page by, say, logging into her account, logging into another employee's account, or asking another employee to log into Facebook," Martini wrote. "Instead, the evidence shows that defendants were the passive recipients of information that they did not seek out or ask for. Plaintiff voluntarily gave information to her Facebook friend, and her Facebook friend voluntarily gave that information to someone else. This may have been a violation of trust, but it was not a violation of privacy."