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Facebook ‘Joke’ Warrants Firing, City Says

MILWAUKEE (CN) - A Wisconsin city claims it had the right to fire a Police and Fire Department dispatcher who posted on her Facebook page that she was addicted to "Vicodin, Adderall, quality marijuana, MD 20/20 Grape and [absinthe]." (Brackets in complaint.) The City of West Allis sued AFSCME Local 80, seeking a stay and vacation of an arbitrator's award that sent the dispatcher back to work after a 30-day suspension.

The arbitrator found that a 30-day unpaid suspension was contractually appropriate and not as "harsh" as the city's reaction, according to city's the complaint in Milwaukee County Court.

The subject of the wrangling is Dana Kuchler, a 21-year veteran of the West Allis' Dispatch Department. The arbitrator pointed out that urine and hair samples from Kuchler tested negative for drugs. Kuchler claims that the Facebook posting was a joke, and pointed out that she wrote "ha" in it.

But the city complains, and says the arbitrator agreed, that "Making stupid jokes on Facebook where the line between public and private communications is admittedly blurred, calls into question that good judgment and common sense of the grievant and her resulting ability to perform her job."

The city claims the arbitrator also found that the city showed that Kuchler had been adequately warned and fairly investigated.

But the arbitrator ruled that the offense did not fall into the category of "extremely serious" and found that discharge was too severe for posting a stupid joke while off duty - as the department had not issued a rule regarding conduct on social networking sites.

The city claims the arbitrator's ruling for reinstatement "violates strong public policy." It claims that Kuchler's public posting of drug addictions "mocks and is blatantly inconsistent with the mission of the Police Department that employs her." In firing Kuchler, the West Allis Police Chief wrote that Kuchler's Facebook posting "destroyed the city's trust and confidence in [her] ability and integrity" as a dispatcher and was "an embarrassment to the city."

West Allis is represented by City Attorney Scott Post.

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