A woman who claimed she was fired for an online rant about her job has settled a lawsuit she filed against her employer and the Virginia Employment Commission.
After being let go from The Glebe, Jayne Brill filed a lawsuit challenging the social media policy for employees at the upscale retirement community in Botetourt County — arguing that her right to comment about workplace issues was violated by the rules that cost her a job.
The lawsuit, which also named the employment commission for denying Brill unemployment benefits, was resolved with a brief dismissal order filed last week in Botetourt County Circuit Court. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to resolve this to everyone’s mutual satisfaction,” said Kevin Holden, a Richmond attorney who represented The Glebe.
Holden declined to elaborate, as did David Paxton, a Roanoke attorney whose firm represented Brill.
Brill, a part-time financial assistant at The Glebe, turned to social media the evening of Feb. 7 to vent her frustrations after a bad day at work.
“Today was the worst!!!!!!!!!!!,” she wrote on her Facebook page, complaining that she had not received needed assistance from co-workers.
“Thanks for helping out,” Brill wrote in what appeared to be sarcasm. “Oh wait I am a team of 1 because others have meetings or they to [sic] lazy to get up to help someone.”
A later determination by The Glebe that Brill had engaged in misconduct led the employment commission to deny her request for benefits. Brill had asked a judge to reverse the commission’s decision, arguing that her “misconduct” was based on an unlawful workplace rule.
A ruling in her favor would have restored Brill’s unemployment payments. She did not seek her job back.
Rather than make a First Amendment claim, which would have been complicated by the fact that she worked for a private employer with broad latitude in hiring and firing decisions, Brill based her assertions on the National Labor Relations Act.
While the act is often used to protect the rights of workers in collective bargaining, it can also be applied to non-union employees who engage in “concerted activities” that seek to improve the terms and conditions of employment.
The lawsuit stated that by enforcing their social media policy, officials at The Glebe “acted in retaliation against [Brill] for exercising her lawful rights” under the act.
At The Glebe, employees are required to sign a policy that states: “Be aware of comments that could reflect poorly on you and the company. If you are going to discuss work, speak respectfully about our residents, employees and competitors,” according to the lawsuit.
Another section of the policy is quoted as saying: “You are personally responsible for your online social media activity. … In addition, you should conduct yourself professionally and not engage in behavior that could embarrass the company.”
Brill, who worked at The Glebe for 11 years, signed the policy in 2012, according to a decision from the employment commission.
Brill had been warned about making public expressions of anger and frustration at work in 2015, nearly two years before her Facebook post, according to the decision, which is included as an exhibit in court records. Additional outbursts of emotion could lead to her termination, Brill was told at the time.
“Nonetheless, [Brill] was upset and angry” on Feb. 7 when a co-worker was too busy to help her complete a task of folding letters, the decision stated. The executive director and his assistant offered to help, according to the decision.
Shortly after the Facebook post that night, officials at The Glebe decided to terminate Brill’s employment — giving her the option to resign in lieu of being fired — based on the previous warnings she received and her more recent violation of the social media policy, the decision stated.