Professor Suspended After Joke About Killing Students on Facebook

Workers have been getting in trouble often over their online vents on social networking sites like Facebook. Not only do employers want to control their online image as closely as they can, but they are also vulnerable, like anybody else, to hurt pride.

The list of Facebook faux-pas just grew longer.

Gloria Gadsden, a sociology professor at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, says she was suspended last week after updating her Facebook status with complaints about work that alluded to violence.

In January, she wrote: "Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete hitman? Yes, it's been that kind of day…" Then in February: "had a good day today. DIDN'T want to kill even one student. :-). Now Friday was a different story."

Gadsden says she posted the comments in jest, on a profile she thought could only be seen by friends and family. She says officials were notified of the posts by a student -- even though she says she had no students in her "friend" list.

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Just a Bad Day

"I was just having a bad day, and I was venting to family and friends," says Gadsden, who says she didn't realize her comments could be read by the public after Facebook relaxed its privacy standards in December. "My friends and family knew I was being facetious. They knew I wasn't targeting anyone."

Nevertheless, university officials were unhappy about the allusions to violence in the posts, she says, and in a meeting with her even mentioned the recent shooting spree by a disgruntled biologist at the University Alabama-Huntsville.

"Given the climate of security concerns in academia, the university has an obligation to take all threats seriously and act accordingly," Marilyn Wells, ESU's interim provost and vice president for academic affairs told The Chronicle of Education last week. Wells and other university officials did not return calls from ABC News seeking comment.

Boss' Hurt Pride

Workers have been getting in trouble often over their online vents. Not only do employers want to control their online image as closely as they can, but they are also vulnerable, like anybody else, to hurt pride.

"When you badmouth your boss and the boss is hearing, whether you're doing it online or at the coffee maker, the boss isn't going to be happy," says Jonathan Ezor, assistant professor of Law and Technology at Touro Law Center in Huntington, N.Y. "The fact that it's online makes it more easily findable and have a broader potential impact."

Obscenities Draw Attention

The comments that provoke employers into action usually contain obscenities or exaggerations that could hurt relations with customers.

Last year, for example, Dan Leone, a stadium worker for the Philadelphia Eagles, was fired after he reacted with an online obscenity to news that one of the Eagles' star players was leaving to join the Denver Broncos.

"Dan is [deleted] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver. Dam Eagles R Retarted," was the comment that cost Leone his job.

Although he later apologized and tried to get his job back, his employer wouldn't budge.

''If you know your boss is online, or anyone close to your boss is online, don't be making comments that can be detrimental to your employment,'' Leone told The New York Times after the incident.

Virgin Workers Fired

In the U.K., Virgin Atlantic Airlines fired 13 cabin crew members after they made fun of passengers in their postings and quipped about defective engines.

The discount airline, owned by Sir Richard Branson, told The Guardian at the time that the postings were "totally inappropriate" and "brought the company into disrepute."

Social media mavens can even get in trouble before they've been hired. Remember the case of the Cisco fatty that went viral last year?

Cisco Fatty's Lost Opportunity

One Twitter user posted an update last year saying "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."

A Cisco employee responded, "Who is the hiring manager? I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web."

Needless to say, the applicant did not end up working at Cisco.

Several Web sites, such as JobVent.com, have sprung up in recent years to make it easier for employees to vent their job frustrations online. There's even a website called IhateDell.net that allows employees (and customers) to air their complaints about the computer maker.

In some cases, online postings by disgruntled employees can seriously damage a company's bottom line. Just ask Domino's Pizza.

Gross Misconduct

Domino's sales dropped last year after an employee posed for five YouTube videos. In one, he stuffed cheese up his nose and put it into a sandwich. In another, he sneezed into a cheese steak sandwich.

Once the poser and the photographer -- also a Domino's employee -- were identified, they were fired and sued by Dominos.

In this case, the transgression seemed very clear. But employees often complain that their online posts are only used as excuses to fire them.

"It's not unusual for an employee to allege that the real reason for adverse employment action is discrimination and and that the employer's stated justification is a subterfuge," says Philip Gordon, a lawyer with Littler, Mendelson who defends employers in privacy disputes.

Gadsden, the professor from East Stroudsburg, says that university officials have been discriminating against her ever since she wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education saying universities don't do enough to retain minority faculty.

Ever since that essay ran, she says, some officials started making her life difficult.

"Their reaction (to the posts) was exaggerated," says Gadsden, noting that she was not giving a warning or a chance to correct her actions before she was suspended. "It was not for my essay they may have not responded in that way."

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