We have all read the stories of employees posting ridiculous comments and photos on social media that ultimately result in their firing. (Facebook fired). Some employees were even fired for what their friends posted on Facebook. And, of course, there was also the time when a daughter cost her family $80,000.00 for posting about a confidential settlement of an employment discrimination complaint.
In early August 2016, however, an employee post on Facebook resulted in a re-hiring, not firing, of two employees in Tennessee. Here’s what happened according to news articles:
Kami Watkins Tucker was a manager at an Auntie Anne’s pretzel restaurant. Tucker had been a manager since 2014, and she had hired her sister, Keri Watkins, in late 2014. Keri is 100% deaf and, according to Tucker, Keri never had any issues with guests. The guests even praised the store for having a deaf employee.
In August 2016, the restaurant was in the process of transitioning to new ownership who met with all employees and informed them that they would be taking over shortly. Unfortunately, according to Tucker, the new owners told her to inform her sister Keri that she would no longer be working there because she was deaf and incapable of helping customers. “I told them if they wanted her fired, they would have to do it themselves. She’s my employee and my sister,” Tucker says. Shortly thereafter, Tucker says she was informed she was being let go. “I was fired last night,” Tucker says. “They told me it was because I was a bad manager. I recorded the whole conversation.”
In addition to calling Auntie Anne’s corporate office, Tucker posted about the situation on Facebook. Read Kami Tucker’s Facebook post here. Tucker’s post generated 690 shares in about 21 hours. In addition, other employees reportedly stated that they would not report to work in an effort to support the sisters.
According to another news report, Tucker then got a call from the corporate offices asking if she and her sister Keri would continue to work for the company. “They called this morning and asked if corporate took ownership of the store if Keri and I would stay,” Tucker said. Tucker further stated that the company “pulled its contract with new ownership after her deaf sister was fired, and Tucker was fired after she spoke up against the move. The contract between proposed new owners Steve and Callie Leasure was pulled. and corporate will now take over the store on Friday.” Auntie Anne’s issued a media release regarding these events and welcomed the sisters back to the store.
3 Takeaways for Employees and Employers
1. The Law Prohibits Discrimination Based on Disability/Medical Condition
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability/medical condition. Many states also have laws prohibiting this type of discrimination as well. In general, the ADA prohibits an employer from treating a qualified individual with a disability differently than other employees. The ADA also requires employers to engage in interactive processes to determine what, if any, reasonable accommodations can be provided to help qualified individuals with a disability in performing the essential functions of the job.
The new ownership likely violated the ADA by terminating Keri’s employment based upon her being deaf. The new ownership did not engage in any interactive process. Nor did they evaluate whether Keri could perform the essential functions of her job, with or without an accommodation. This is particularly alarming here since Keri reportedly performed her job well for quite some time before the new owners made their unilateral decision to fire her.
2. Retaliation is Also Unlawful
When the incoming owners directed Tucker to fire her sister, Tucker refused. She also reported the events to the corporate office. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who are exercising their rights under the ADA, for example. And, employees who believe the employer is violating the ADA, and reports that alleged violation, should also not face retaliation. Indeed, if employers could simply retaliate without consequence, employees would be reluctant to report unlawful activities.
3. Using Social Media to Report Complaints
Though the news articles did not discuss whether Auntie Anne’s had any social media policies, Tucker reported her situation via Facebook. It went viral in the local community. Employers would be wise to review their policies on social media, reporting workplace complaints, “open door” policies and the like. Policies should emphasize that employees are encouraged to report any complaints and/or misconduct as soon as possible. They should identify to whom such reports can be directed. And alternate folks other than the supervisor who may be subject of the complaint.
Here, Tucker’s posting did not violate any federal law. In fact, would likely be considered as protected activity by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Her post, unlike so many other posts by disgruntled employees, remained professional and devoid of profanity. Which likely helped to win support from others.
All too often, employees vent or mindlessly post photos or comments on social media that result in termination, suspension, or other adverse consequences. Here, Tucker used social media to help her sister stand up to what was likely discrimination based on her disability.
DISCLAIMER: Information provided on this website is not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship. Nor should you act on anything stated in this article without conferring with the Author or other legal counsel regarding your specific situation.