Facebook Photo Flap: Female Employee Fired, Male Simply Disciplined

By Eric B. Meyer

Over the weekend, I read this article about Laraine Cook, a girls basketball coach at a high school in Idaho, who lost her job, apparently after her school learned about a photo on her Facebook page that showed her boyfriend touching her chest.

What struck me as interesting is that Ms. Cook’s boyfriend is also her co-worker, varsity football coach Tom Harrison.

And what struck me as even more interesting is that, while Ms. Cook lost her job, Mr. Harrison was merely disciplined.

Were you thinking gender discrimination? Because the thought did cross my mind.

Why discipline may be uneven

But, as employment lawyers, business owners, managers, and HR professionals, we’ve all been in situations in which one event results in discipline for two employees. And there are a variety of reasons why that discipline may be uneven.

Here, Ms. Cook may have more prior infractions.  Articles about the incident also indicates that Mr. Harrison has won 10 state football championships and was inducted into the Idaho High School Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

So, the school may have been more inclined to cut him some slack. And that has nothing to do with gender.

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However, let’s face it, in this particular instance, there is one reason — one word — that we’re hearing about an incident involving two teachers in Idaho: Facebook.

Here’s the question for you: Is uneven discipline relating to a Facebook-related event the exception to the rule? That is, if a similar Facebook incident occurred in your workplace, knowing that it may draw media attention, would you be more inclined to view the incident in a vacuum and discipline both employees equally?

Let me know in the comments below.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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