Fired nurse fails to prove privacy violation regarding Facebook account

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A registered nurse's privacy rights were not violated when she was suspended — and later fired for another reason — after an opinionated Facebook post from her was brought to her hospital supervisors' attention, a federal court has ruled.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted summary judgment against Deborah Ehling, RN, a paramedic and one-time union leader, who had claimed violations of privacy and family leave laws.

Ehling was terminated from her job at Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp. in New Jersey after multiple disciplinary citations pushed her past a company threshold and she then stayed away from work after an approved period for Family and Medical Leave Act reasons, according to a Bloomberg News Report. She was fired in February 2012, more than two years after she was disciplined regarding a Facebook post she made criticizing paramedics' handling of a shooting at the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., according to a Bloomberg News report.

After the shooting, which killed a security guard, Ehling posted to her Facebook account: “An 88 yr old sociopath white supremacist opened fire in the Wash D.C. Holocaust Museum this morning and killed an innocent guard (leaving children). Other guards opened fire. The 88 yr old was shot. He survived. 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!”

Although the nurse wasn't friends with members of her upper-management on Facebook, she was connected to multiple coworkers. One of them took a screenshot of her post and sent it to management. Once aware of the posting, Ehling's supervisors placed her on paid suspension, saying the comment showed a “deliberate disregard for patient safety.”

After her reinstatement, the plaintiff used her 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act allotted time. Ultimately, she never finished paperwork to extend her leave time and was terminated shortly afterward when she didn't return to work.

Ehling argued her former employer violated the Stored Communications Act with the discovery of the Facebook post and didn't follow FMLA protocol.

On Aug. 20, a judge found neither argument sufficiently proven. Because the employer received her Facebook post in an unsolicited manner, it didn't violate her privacy, the judge ruled. Also, her coworker was granted access to her Facebook postings, and thus, wasn't prying into any posts.  Her FMLA rights were clearly communicated, the judge also ruled, and by not filling out the required paperwork, her termination was warranted.

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