A salesman at a BMW dealership who lost his job due to negative comments took his case to court – and the judge sided with the dealership’s decision.
Social media is proving to be a slippery slope when it comes to balancing free speech and protecting a company’s image. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has already started going after companies that have fired employees after they posted negative comments, and it took the case of salesman Robert Becker, who decided to take his ex-employer, Karl Knauz BMW, to court.
Becker was fired from his job on June 22, 2010, a week after he posted comments on Facebook about a barbeque the dealership hosted for customers. The luxury car dealership served hot dogs and bottled water – not the fanciest of feasts – and Becker made fun of the fact that cheap food was on the menu: “I was happy to see that Knauz went ‘All Out’ for the most important launch of a new BMW in years,” Becker wrote, according to court papers.
But he didn’t stop there – Becker also posted pictures of an accident that took place at a nearby Land Rover dealership, which also happens to be owned by the Knauz group. The accident occurred when a salesperson let a customer’s 13-year-old son sit in the driver’s seat and the vehicle rolled down an embankment and into a pond. This inspired Becker to write a caption for the photos he posted on his personal Facebook page, saying “This is your car: This is your car on drugs.”
As you can imagine, Knauz management didn’t find these comments as funny as Becker did, and asked him to delete the posts (there’s no word how they found out about the comments). Becker did so, but he was fired soon after.
The NLRB alleged that Becker’s Facebook posts were protected speech and the dealership could not fire him. The NLRB also said that other employees of the dealership had “expressed concern” regarding the barbeque event as well. Its argument was that Becker’s online comments were “protected concerted activity.”
Ruling Judge Joel Biblowitz agreed that Becker’s online posts about the sales event were protected by federal law, therefore he could not be fired over them. But when it came to comments and pictures about the Land Rover accident, the judge found that they were “neither protected nor concerted activities” since they had nothing to do with his conditions of employment.
So it all came down to what the dealership fired Becker for and Judge Biblowitz had to determine if the dealership fired him for the sales event post, the accident post or both. He based his decision on the BMW’s general manager testimonial, who had said he found Becker’s barbeque Facebook comments “somewhat comical” but was upset with negative comments about the accident, as well as other evidence the dealership produced. The resulting decision that was handed down by the judge was that Becker was fired because of the Facebook post about the Land Rover accident.
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[Source: Chicago Tribune]