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Emergency Dispatcher Fired For Facebook Drug Joke 631

Posted by kdawson
from the thin-pretense dept.
kaptink writes "Dana Kuchler, a 21-year veteran of the West Allis Dispatch Department, was fired from her job for making jokes on her Facebook page about taking drugs. She appealed to an arbitrator, claiming the Facebook post was a joke, pointing out she had written 'ha' in it, and noting that urine and hair samples tested negative for drugs. The arbitrator said she should be entitled to go back to work after a 30-day suspension, but the City of West Allis complained that was not appropriate. Is posting bad jokes on Facebook a justifiable reason to give someone the boot?"
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Emergency Dispatcher Fired For Facebook Drug Joke

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  • no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dmitrygr (736758) <dmitrygr@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @02:46AM (#32332768) Homepage
    Probably not, but by the time it's sorted she'll be bankrupt
    • Re:no (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:15AM (#32332882)

      Probably not, but by the time it's sorted she'll be bankrupt

      Of course it's justifiable -- we live in the age of corporate fear. There's no longer a need for anything to actually happen -- all that's required is for a corp to assert "fear of [whatever]" (litigation, disparagement of business, loss of competitive advantage) for them to justify any extension of control over their employees.

      Just look at the way the bastards try to intrude into your home by telling you you'll be fired if your housemate doesn't stop smoking within 90 days. Why??? -- "fear of increased insurance costs".

      Craven sons of bitches.

      • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

        by silentcoder (1241496) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:25AM (#32333716) Homepage

        You do realize this was not a corporation ? It was a the police department, technically a government-run, tax-funded public service.

        Isn't their JOB to PROTECT people's constitutional freedoms (like the freedom to tell a joke ?) as opposed to censoring people ?

        The article doesn't say if the joke was made during working hours. If she was on the job, in uniform they could make a claim that the joke was conduct unbecoming of somebody employed in law enforcement or something, but surely when she takes that uniform off and walks out the door she's a private citizen with all the rights of such ?
        Soldiers can't be charged with conduct unbecoming for bad behavior unless they are in uniform, so why should it be different?

        Of course this is just speculation since we don't KNOW if she was in uniform but essentially - if she was off duty, then she wasn't representing the department and if there is any "embarrassment" her behaviour it is only toward herself - so this would seem a crucial point of consideration I believe.

        Disclaimers: IANAL. IANAA (I Am Not An American).

        • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Keeper Of Keys (928206) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:33AM (#32333754) Homepage

          You think the police's job is to protect people's freedoms? You must be Swedish

        • Re:no (Score:5, Informative)

          by pryoplasm (809342) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:48AM (#32333816)

          Soldiers can't be charged with conduct unbecoming for bad behavior unless they are in uniform, so why should it be different?

          Actually, they can under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It applies to all US service members regardless of location, in and out of uniform.

          I don't see why something similar wouldn't apply to other nations militiaries or other government organizations...

        • Re:no (Score:5, Informative)

          by Desert_Scarecrow (998677) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:55AM (#32333858)
          "Soldiers can't be charged with conduct unbecoming for bad behavior unless they are in uniform, so why should it be different?"

          Absolutely, 100% wrong. They can. The fact that the individual works for a public service and not a private corporation is actually worse for their case, not better for it.
        • Re:no (Score:5, Informative)

          by Pax681 (1002592) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:53AM (#32334200)

          Soldiers can't be charged with conduct unbecoming for bad behavior unless they are in uniform, so why should it be different?.

          in the British Army Yes they can, and the other services here too under Section 69 C of the Army Act 1955 in that they brought the Army in the disrepute

          in this way a soldier can be charged by civilian authorities, get find guilty and THEN get done by the Army AS WELL under 69 C

          it's a form of two charges for the same crime in a sense. As i was a soldier and have had this done for some drunken road sing collecting antics whilst serving in Germany in 1988 i know this well. and it's a VERY common thing to happen when you have been charged by the civilian authorities. sometimes you don't even need to be charged by the civilians to get this military charge. the investigation is enough to bring the wrath of section 69 C down upon you.

          thus uniform NOT required at all for charges under military law.

          • Re:no (Score:4, Funny)

            by michaelhood (667393) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:12AM (#32334352)

            As i was a soldier and have had this done for some drunken road sing collecting antics whilst serving in Germany in 1988

            I read "drunken road sing collectin' antics" in a Brit soccer hooligan accent in my head several times, wondering what new English slang I'd come on and then I realized you meant road signs. =(

  • by Tukz (664339) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @02:48AM (#32332774) Journal

    Maybe they had other reasons, but needed an excuse to lay her off?

    • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @02:52AM (#32332794) Homepage Journal

      Dana Kuchler, a 21-year veteran

      'nuff said. That's a lotta retirement money the get to keep.

      • by TOGSolid (1412915) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:15AM (#32333434)
        Yep, the city made out like a bandit and got a convenient excuse.

        This also happens to be exactly why I keep my Facebook free of anyone from work. People seem to think that they need to "friend" anyone they met even briefly and then wonder why it gets them into trouble. You can't be fired for things you said on your Facebook page if your page is set to private and nobody from work can read it. It's that damned simple.
        • by siloko (1133863) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:29AM (#32333468)

          This also happens to be exactly why I keep my Facebook free of anyone from work.

          I take this one step further by not having anything to do with Facebook. That's after I've made sure I have no friends of course. That'll learn 'em!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jonadab (583620)
          > This also happens to be exactly why I keep my Facebook free of anyone from work.

          I try to minimize *any* contact with my coworkers outside of work, for several reasons.

          In the first place, spending non-work time in contact with my coworkers would risk the development of personal friendships with some of them more than others, which would create a conflict of interests, opening up the door for unintentional favoritism, compromising my ability to perform my job duties objectively and putting me in a diffic
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Culture20 (968837)

            I realize it's not officially against (most employers') policy to be friends with a coworker (to *date* coworkers, of course, is almost universally frowned upon, but mere friendships are usually tolerated), but it's still not a good idea.

            HR (well, actually the Legal dept) frowns on office dating, but management loves having subordinates getting married to each other. It's so much harder to leave a company if you have to leave your other half behind or have to leave in pairs.

        • by Aqualung812 (959532) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:37AM (#32334076)

          You can't be fired for things you said on your Facebook page if your page is set to private

          You think setting your profile to "private" will make sure that only your friends see your status? That's cute.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by linzeal (197905)
      21 year veteran with mandatory raises is pry a nice chunk of change. My friend's girlfriend worked in dispatch and with OT pulled in enough to get a loan for a 300k house and a 50k car with no cosigner. I don't know what she makes but it is pry ridiculous for the amount of skill involved.
      • by icebrain (944107) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:03AM (#32333890)

        I've never worked on the dispatch side of things, but there is a huge difference between a good dispatcher and a bad one. The good ones are true multitaskers; they not only know what goes on during a fire/EMS call, but can tell what's happening just by the sound of someone's voice, and can manage to keep track of five or six separate incidents at one time. Many of them are former fire/EMS/law enforcement who either retired or had to quit for medical reasons.

        Most dispatchers pull 12-hour shifts, often overnight. It's a stressful job where you're sitting at a desk all day trying to help coordinate a response to life-threatening situations solely by radio. I'd imagine it's a little like air traffic control, actually.

      • by noidentity (188756) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:45AM (#32334136)

        21 year veteran with mandatory raises is pry a nice chunk of change. My friend's girlfriend worked in dispatch and with OT pulled in enough to get a loan for a 300k house and a 50k car with no cosigner. I don't know what she makes but it is pry ridiculous for the amount of skill involved.

        You keep using that word [google.com]. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • by Rivalz (1431453) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @02:49AM (#32332782)

    Seriously I understand from a business point the reason. But that doesn't make it right.
    Kinda along the lines of no bathroom breaks, mandatory overtime without compensation, and your everyday harassment from bosses.
    It always seems like when a company goes too far to try to limit negative publicity all they get is a mountain of bad press.

    • by jonadab (583620) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:57AM (#32333864) Homepage Journal
      Wait, do you mean *on the job* freedom of speech, or only when you go home?

      If the former, that would certainly change the nature of *my* job in fundamental ways.

      I work at a public library. At work (and in the presence of the public), I'm not supposed to express an opinion on basically *anything* (well, anything of substance; I can talk about the weather). Religion, politics, history, education, science, you name it. This goes to extremes in my line of work. When a patron asks me for books on how the fall of Rome resulted in the creation of angels (yes, this is a real example), I'm supposed to try to help them find books on that, without comment. In practice this means books on angels and books on the history of Rome. I know very well that the books on the history of Rome won't say anything about the creation of angels and the books on angels won't say anything about the fall of Rome, but I cannot *tell* the patron this. I have to keep a straight face while I help them find the books.

      So my job would be pretty radically different if on-the-job free speech were legally mandatory.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smellsofbikes (890263)
        My sis-in-law is a law clerk at a federal court. She doesn't have on-the-job freedom of speech, in much the same way you don't, but she also explicitly does not have off-the-job freedom of speech in many ways: as a federal employee she is not allowed to put up political signs in her yard, for instance. (As a result, neither is my brother.) People have been fired from where she works for wearing shirts with political statements when they weren't at work. This is a result of the Hatch Act of 1939 [wikipedia.org] although
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by LanMan04 (790429)

          as a federal employee she is not allowed to put up political signs in her yard, for instance

          Once upon a time I was a Fed, and that's not true, UNLESS you work for one of the super-secret agencies, but they have all kinds of looney-toons rules that don't apply to the other agencies.

          The Hatch Act DOES apply in some specific circumstances outside the job, but putting up a partisan sign in your yard is not one of them. That's OK (again, for "regular" Feds, not NSA/CIA/Secret Service folks).

          had to link due to stupid lameness filter [wikipedia.org]

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by smellsofbikes (890263)
            In her case, she falls under the category of Administrative Law Judge, so gets placed in "agencies and employees prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity" which means she can not "campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections" from the wikipedia article we both linked, so: not so super-secret.

            But, again, it doesn't appear to me that this gives the people running the place the right to fire someone for wearing a political shirt while not at work, but I guess

  • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @02:56AM (#32332812)
    Sounds like the excuse to fire someone whom they could replace with someone a lot cheaper/less benefits due to years of service....
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dryesias (1326115)
      Seems likely. Why else would they be checking (stalking?) her Facebook profile anyway?
      • by ConfusedVorlon (657247) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:05AM (#32333140) Homepage

        she had already been taken through 4 of the mandatory 5 steps to dismissal

        "Kuchler was already on thin ice with the city, having gone through four of the five disciplinary steps required by the collective bargaining agreement with the local clerical union: a verbal warning, written warning, one-day-suspension, and three-day-suspension."
        http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/05/police_dispatcher_fired_for_st.php [sfweekly.com]

        so it seems that for whatever reason, her bosses didn't think much of her...

        • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:22AM (#32333694) Homepage

          Which makes this whole story sensationalist. It's not like "make a drug joke, get fired", it's "be on the verge of being fired and pile on the straw that broke the camel's back". Nobody really wants to have people in that position for long, either you want the employee to really straighten themselves out or you want them out, no in betweens. There's no goodwill at that point.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by aaandre (526056)

            Except that it's not a straw on the back of the camel. It has nothing to do with the camel. The camel lied about a straw. There is no straw.

            If the government lies in order to fire an employee, that is an important story. Whoever made that decision and the ones supporting them have no integrity and are not worthy of trust.

  • Cause (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:18AM (#32332902)
    You know, we wouldn't even have this problem if we didn't try to prohibit Americans from so many things...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Not quite. The cause is conservative Americans. There wouldn't be a problem and we wouldn't try to prohibit Americans from doing so many things if Americans weren't conservative.

    • by FreeUser (11483) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:46AM (#32333552)

      You know, we wouldn't even have this problem if we didn't try to prohibit Americans from so many things...

      We brought this on ourselves with our own rhetoric (not just right-wing religious crap that results in things like the war on drugs, legalized discrimination against gays, and a steady erosion in women's rights, but right-wing libertarian rhetoric about the supremacy of the market for solving all the world's ills and making businesses more powerful than democratically elected governments, and left-wing political correctness that had people fired for speaking controversially about certain topics).

      Indeed, we wouldn't have this particular problem if people weren't propagating moronic notions of "property rights" trumping every other constitutional right, including that of free speech (and freedom of association). If freedom of speech applied, as it was intended, everywhere, for everyone, then you couldn't be fired for saying something stupid, be it to your colleagues, your flatmate, your co-workers (outside of business hours), or whoever, in whatever medium.

      But we've lost track of that--now people, especially in the United States, promote the notion that "speech has consequences", which is true, but not the way they mean, and not like this. Getting fired for bad jokes is not a "natural consequence" of telling bad jokes any more than landing in prison for saying something the government (or a powerful business leader with friends in government) doesn't like. Both are an artifice to suppress speech and, in this particular case, an excuse to replace one person with seniority with someone else who is no doubt cheaper and more compliant. Scare people into compliance AND replace an experienced worker with a newbie who will work for peanuts: two birds, one stone.

      Thanks to libertarian group-think, we are no longer citizens with constitutional freedoms and rights, we are merely peasants, living and eating at the sufferance of our corporate masters. And you know what? Most of us are too busy arguing vehemently for the rights of our masters to do whatever they want in the name of "it's their property, so no 'government' (read: constitutional) constraint should ever apply. Ridiculous, but the country is lousy with people who think exactly that, consequences be damned.

      "Love is hate", "no is yes", "war is peace", and we live in a free society. Just so long as you don't actually try to exercize those freedoms against the wishes of your corporate master.

  • by muckracer (1204794) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:23AM (#32332924)

    With Facebook's constant and behind-the-back changes to make more and more things public by default, it'll be a question of time until somebody gets fired because they posted something for their friends (not including anybody from work), yet people (incl. employment-related) they had never intended to see the message did see it and used it against the poster.

    Personally I hate the fact, that I have to keep screening my privacy settings just in case they fucked around with something again and changed it to "Everybody".

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:32AM (#32332966)

    As long as your physical performance on the job isn't affected, your employer should have no right to use what you do outside of work hours against you, unless they're paying you to be on-call (and even then, there should be limits).

    End of story.

  • by golodh (893453) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:33AM (#32332972)
    Speaking with a former President: it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

    If you take the question as: "Is posting snarky content on Facebook about evading drugs testing sufficient grounds to disqualify you from your job, and hence set you up for justifiable dismissal?", the answer is obviously: "No.".

    If you take the question as: "Is posting snarky content on Facebook about evading drugs testing on part of an emergency dispatcher sufficient ground to disqualify said dispatcher from her job", the answer would shift to: "Probably not".

    However, if you were to take the question as: "Suppose you are a manager in charge of emergency services. Suppose you catch one of your employees, in a fairly critical position too, writing snarky stuff on Facebook about evading drugs testing. Is that a risk to you? Would it make YOU look bad if she did anything wrong in her job (however unrelated to actual substance abuse)?", then the answer is a definite: "Yes". For that reason said manager will face the choice of (a) actually looking into the matter, forming a personal judgement, and exposing himself and his career tot potential damage just to be fair to an employee or (b) simply firing her and getting a replacement. Which option do you think would make more sense from a CYA perspective and would also make said manager look good, competent, ruthless, and dedicated?

    There are no bonus points for coming up with answer (b). So that particular dispatcher is hereby dispatched. Such is the power of new electronic media, classical all-American CYA considerations, and age-old guilt-by-association thinking.

    • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:11AM (#32333164)

      Well, on the plus side, there's no need to feel bad for her. She's likely to file--and win--a substantial lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination which will not only net her her job back (if she wants it) but also her pension and a decent chunk of change for her troubles.

      Such is the power of firing people for no reason and ignoring an arbiter who told you that you did so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dbIII (701233)
      The real answer is to pry the HR drones away from Facebook and make them get back to work, thus making this entirely a non-issue.
      That's not likely to happen, so kids it's time to learn the lesson the net taught everyone else long before there was a world wide web - don't use your real name if you want to write anything that may offend the most easily offended person you can think of.
  • by hellop2 (1271166) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:37AM (#32333006)
    Link to webform email City Attorney Scott Post [west-allis.wi.us] Phone #: (414) 302-8450

    Link to webform email Mayor Dan Devine [west-allis.wi.us] Phone #: (414) 302-8290

    Link to webform email Human Resources director Audrey Key [west-allis.wi.us] Phone #: (414) 302-8292

    I'm emailing the Mayor a picture of Kim Jong-il.
  • by phantomcircuit (938963) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:57AM (#32333092) Homepage

    Arbitration in the US is binding. They can huff and puff and try to blow the decision down, but they are going to lose.

    Either she gets her job back or they end up paying her not to do her job.

  • by thephydes (727739) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:02AM (#32333124)
    whether it is justifiable or not. Anyone who uses facebook and thinks that they are anonymous or safe (from someone dobbing them in) is an idiot.
  • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:16AM (#32333182)
    The article is pretty vague, just mentions she claimed to be addicted to a few prescription meds amoungst other things. Problem is, is that all she did? Or did she make a comment like that while attached to a photo of her in her city employee work uniform while holding some prescription bottles? If it's just the joke a didn't really show what her job was then I don't see why she was fired. If she made that joke while making it obvious that she works for the city then its a whole other can of worms. Like any job, when your in your uniform you are considered a reflection of your company and must always act it, and if she was in uniform (in a picture) with this joke then she is a very poor reflection of her job and discipline actions should very well be expected. Just like in other job.
  • by CaptainNerdCave (982411) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:25AM (#32333226)
    Does that mean a Coca-Cola employee could be fired because they always buy lunch at Taco Bell and joke about hating the taste of Diet Coke? Does that mean I could be fired from the hotel where I work because I stayed at a Hilton and it was reported that I said Hiltons are much nicer? What if I posted these on a Myspace page? A twitter page? In a privately-visible Facebook entry? Where is the line drawn? Are my first-amendment rights applicable?
  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:27AM (#32333234)

    This is a non issue. The arbiter ruled. The person has to go back to work after 30 days.

    Sanity prevailed.

    Nothing to see here, move along.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by celtic_hackr (579828)

      Well it would be the end of it, except the city has taken the binding arbitration ruling to court to have it thrown out. What it boils down to in the end is one of two things:

      1) Does the city feel it's worthhile to fire her and either:
      a) pay out a settlement from the resulting wrongful discharge, et al lawsuit,
      b) are convinced she won't find some hired gun foaming at the mouth to make mega-bucks suing a retarded local government;
      OR
      2) Does the city deluded think they can win a wrongful discharge suit,

  • Feel safer? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lemming Mark (849014) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:29AM (#32333248) Homepage

    On the one hand, they tried to remove an employee in a critical job who had been linked - via a Facebook comment - to drugs. On the other hand, they tried to remove an experienced employee working in a critical job who had submitted to and passed their drug tests. Who would they replace her with? A less experienced dispatcher who talks about drug addiction in bars and at home but not on Facebook?

  • STOP! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:54AM (#32333346) Homepage
    Context time!

    Look, if you don't want your job, just quit and go do something you like. Don't troll your employer into firing you, then drag lawyers into it. The only winners there are the lawyers, and that makes Baby Jesus strangle a kitten.

  • by EriDay (679359) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:25AM (#32334004)
    "The arbitrator said she should be entitled to go back to work after a 30-day suspension, but the City of West Allis complained that was not appropriate."

    So the city sets up a kangaroo court, is displeased with the results and declares it moot? Generally those contracts where you agree to settle things by arbitration are set up so the big can crush the little with a minimum of effort.

    What was the purpose of arbitration if "the city" can simply say it is displeased with the result. I like how the TFA makes it sound like this is a talking city.

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