COURT: NEWSPAPER ALLOWED TO FIRE UNION JOURNALISTS

A long-running wrongful termination dispute between a local newspaper and several employees has come to an end at an appeals court in Washington, D.C., according to local media reports. The case was seen as a victory for business owners, but the employees who lost their jobs are less enthusiastic about the outcome.

The eight workers at the Santa Barbara News-Press were dismissed from their positions after they participated in a series of protests about the paper’s blurry line between opinion and news. These journalists were concerned that the integrity of the news in their community was falling victim to poor reporting and unethical action on the part of the publisher. They even went so far as to hang a sign from a local pedestrian bridge that told area residents to cancel their newspaper subscription.

The reporters allege that they were discriminated against because of their participation in union activities. They also say they were fired after bringing up legitimate complaints about their working conditions. For a journalist, ethics are among the most important workplace concerns.

Instead of siding with the plaintiffs, the appeals court ruled that the publisher of the newspaper was allowed to make the final decisions about the content in the publication. Reporters, therefore, do not have the authority to make final decisions about the content of a newspaper, even if they feel the content is unethical.

The case stemmed from several incidents in 2006, during which top editors at the newspaper quit their jobs to protest the owner’s involvement in deciding the publication’s content. Eight reporters who worked under those editors were fired after they decided to form a union.

Legal experts say the court used the First Amendment to rationalize its decision, saying that the newspaper’s First Amendment rights would have been violated if its leadership had been required to hire back the dismissed reporters.

It can be difficult, sometimes, to determine what constitutes wrongful termination. Those who feel they may have been fired without proper cause can speak to an attorney for more information about their situation.

Given the prolonged status of this case, it appears that judges involved had some difficulty in dealing with its thorny issues. Though it is not clear whether the workers will seek to appeal to a higher court, it’s possible they will find success in it if they do.

Source: The Fresno Bee, “Appeals court sides with newspaper in labor fight,” Sam Hananel, Dec. 18, 2012

CALIFORNIA TEACHER: ANTI-SEMITIC TALK SHOULDN’T COST ME MY JOB

Can your government-based employer fire you because you decided to express your opinion? One California woman does not think so, and she is taking one of the nation’s largest school districts to court to protest her termination.

The 60-year-old substitute schoolteacher is suing to get her job back after a series of anti-Semitic comments that appeared on a local news broadcast. The woman, who had taken part in several Occupy L.A. rallies, has filed a wrongful termination claim, saying that her right to free speech has been ignored by school officials.

The woman was approached for an interview by a local news service while she was employed by a California school district. The woman had said that she was attending the rally because of her dislike for “Zionist Jews,” whom she accused of controlling big banks and federal lending institutions for their own gain.

The suit claims that the woman was fired because the interview went viral on YouTube and noticed that several comments from area residents urging the district to terminate her employment. Others called on viewers to contact the school district and insist that the woman was unfit to teach. The woman was fired last fall, according to court documents.

The woman is now seeking reinstatement to her job from a judge because of the alleged First Amendment rights violations. She is also seeking punitive damages for the wrongful termination in connection with the incident, arguing that the district breached an implied contract, prompted emotional distress and ended her employment in bad faith.

She is represented by a non-profit organization called The Rutherford Institute, a group that intends to protect religious liberties.

This specific case certainly includes some very emotional and controversial issues, but it raises big questions for the First Amendment questions for employees. For example, if a low-level bank employee was interviewed at a protest and they expressed concerns about abuses by mortgage lenders, would their employment be protected by their right to free speech?

These are the kind of questions that employees and employers must begin to ask and clarify, especially in the age of digital media. Since anyone can publish content to the Internet, personal views and opinions can easily be distributed and identified.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Teacher wants her job back after anti-Semitic comments,” Matt Reynolds, May 17, 2012