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August 14, 2002
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Today's lesson: Write a letter to a congressman, get fired for it. Was this abuse of a work email account, or a miffed congressman's office overstepping its bounds? Ah, dissent in the 21st century, what a time we live in.
posted by mathowie (66 comments total)

 
Is it the same as writing it as a letter on LA Times-headed paper?
posted by liam at 9:28 AM on August 14, 2002


For some reason, Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose? comes to mine, not sure why. The times are very strange indeed. Dissent is sadly becoming unpatriotic .
posted by john445 at 9:31 AM on August 14, 2002


I would comment about it... but I'm at work.
posted by Gargantuan at 9:32 AM on August 14, 2002


Is it the same as writing it as a letter on LA Times-headed paper?

That's a good question, and the one that ought to be focused on to keep this issue in proper perspective. I believe sending a hard copy letter would be worse, because it requires more thought and contemplation, and more time. An email can be much more passion driven and sent on a whim.

But clearly, he was not sending it as a representative of the company, but as an individual. He may have broken an employment agreement by doing this, however.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:33 AM on August 14, 2002


this was a serious error sending a politically critical opinion via his employers email system to a corrupt, vindictive, excessively powerful slimebag who deserves to spend a few years huddling around a fire in a 55 gallon drum of trash with an empty stomach. or better yet, in a 5 x 7 cell with an unfairly convicted peasant who possesses a taste for the humiliation of the rich and powerful.
posted by quonsar at 9:34 AM on August 14, 2002


While I believe it was inappropriate for him to send the email from work, contacting Robin's employer was a low-blow by Rep. Thomas. There really was no reason for him to do that.
posted by reverendX at 9:34 AM on August 14, 2002


Anyone have Congressman Thomas' email address?
posted by dorcas at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2002


http://www.house.gov/billthomas/Constituent/contacting/contacting.html
posted by VulcanMike at 9:50 AM on August 14, 2002


dorcas:

bill.thomas@mail.house.gov
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:52 AM on August 14, 2002


The guy violated the company policy. Although the discussion to enforce the policy way have been motivated by Mr. Robin's views, the fact remains he violated the policy. Innuendo and conjecture may exist, but this thread presents no evidence that Mr. Robin's firing was politically motivated or that the congressman's office played any role what so ever.

It’s so easy to get a new e-mail via the web, pick up the phone or otherwise write a letter that the LA Times 's policy does not in any way prevent anyone from dissenting.

Further more, there is evidence that LA Times policy prevents anyone from expressing their view, the policy seem simply states (according to the thread) that personal e-mail of any nature can’t be sent using company e-mail. I sympathize with Mr. Robins, but since there are so many other options available to him to express his views; I don’t believe his freedom is in any way being unreasonably restricted.

Also, the LA Times is a private corporation with the ability to set such policies as it pleases.
posted by Bag Man at 9:53 AM on August 14, 2002


If I was his boss, I'd have fired him. Sending a critical, inflammatory, and highly partisan email to a government official from your work email address is just asking for it. He was, intentionally or not, acting as a representative of his employer, and he blew it.

This would be an entirely different question if he had sent the message from a private email address and had subsequently been fired. While even that would be within the rights of his employer, it would, in my opinion, be ethically wrong. In this case, tough.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:53 AM on August 14, 2002


"It was a stupid thing to do," says the 37-year-old sportswriter. "I knew that sending that out on company e-mail was wrong, and I deserved a suspension."

Let's not lose perspective here. There's no sense in arguing about whether it was wrong or right -- the guy admits it was wrong. Moreover, if it's wrong and he (by his own admission) knew it, who cares whether Thomas made the call to his employer. The only issue (even to the reporter) is the severity of the punishment. Seems to me that's the L.A. Times' call. I wouldn't have made the same decision, but I'm not his employer.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2002


Dissent is a long tradition in our country. Our country was founded by dissenters. The real un-americans are the ones who call anyone who differs in opinion with our government "un-patriotic."

Some famous dissenters: Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington...etc.

Here is his email: bill.thomas@mail.house.gov
posted by wsg at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2002


Is it the same as writing it as a letter on LA Times-headed paper?

Yes. Send nasty-grams on your own letterhead.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:00 AM on August 14, 2002


I agree with monju_bosatsu up to the point about the private e-mail. Unless he highlighted his status as a Times employee in his private email, what right would the Times have had in firing him? -- He would then have been simply exercising his rights as citizen. While the Times actual response was hard cheese, they were within their rights & he should have known better.
posted by Pressed Rat at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2002


I can see how Congressman Bill Thomas' office could have seen the e-mail, noticed it was from a major publication, and wondered what was going on. As a politician, getting a scathing e-mail from a newspaper's e-mail server might imply more than just that message.

Thus it makes sense that they contacted the LA Times, to do a handshake and make sure there wasn't some conspiracy about to hatch.

I can see how the LA Times would be disturbed at this breach of their policy.

What I can't see is why the Congressman, after clearing the air, wouldn't say "Hey, LA Times. It's clear this guy has his opinion, to which he's entitled. It's clear he screwed up. We'll keep this between us, I'll accept your apologies for the misunderstanding. Please let him keep his job to support his family."

Seems like the professional, mature way to handle it... And even if he didn't do it before, there is still time for him to do it now. Ask the LA Times to give the guy his job back. Make yourself look like a champion of the people and of families.

Public Relations isn't about facts, it's about perceptions. It doesn't matter if Brian Robin technically violated policy, and that's technically why his family has no way to support itself now. What matters is that it looks like a Congressman received a message he didn't like and got the sender fired. There's no good way to spin that...
posted by VulcanMike at 10:06 AM on August 14, 2002


Unless he highlighted his status as a Times employee in his private email, what right would the Times have had in firing him?

I was assuming that his employment was at will. In other words, he can be fired for just about any reason, or no reason at all. The particular circumstances under scrutiny here may differ, but I have no reason to think so. The vast majority of employment in the US is at-will.

It doesn't matter if Brian Robin technically violated policy...

Technically? Sending a nasty email message to an elected official via your work email address sounds pretty substantive to me. And unprofessional. And short-sighted. All of which are reasons to get fired.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:28 AM on August 14, 2002


Fired. Sheesh. So much for newspapers standing up to the powerful.

Shouldn't have sent the email from the company system, even though written on private time. Easy call.

But terminate him? His supervisors must've been looking for a way to can him before the transgression. The email by itself doesn't add up. He's a freakin' sportswriter, not a policy-making editor or political reporter, where expressing such opinions could hamstring your ability to do your job.
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:33 AM on August 14, 2002


It seems to me that a news organization needs to maintain at least the appearance of impartiality in order to do its job. Politically charged email with an LA Times email address certainly wouldn't help.

A few years ago I worked at a bipartisan association of gov't officials in DC- my boss lost his job for sending out emails from his work account decrying the Clinton impeachment. He was fired the next morning.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:33 AM on August 14, 2002


"I don't believe his freedom is in any way being unreasonably restricted. Also, the LA Times is a private corporation with the ability to set such policies as it pleases."

Well, it's settled then. Facts are facts. Move along. Nothing to see here. No point discussing whether it was fair. No point taking an elected official to task.

I'm so proud that we live in a country where such matters can be expressed in purely black and white terms. Reactionary agitators who constantly try to poke at the grey areas in search of silly concepts like "fairness" and "justice" are a huge waste of time.

And I'm sure the congressman has better things to do than worry about whether some opinion-laden loudmouth lost his job over this.

People who want to criticize government need to realize that this is a complicated task which should be left to trained professionals. If common citizens keep harassing elected officials without paying more attention to the details of which SMTP server they are connected to we're all going to lose. Remember - You opinion may be important to you, but it's not as important as a congressman's ego, or the fine print in an employee handbook.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:35 AM on August 14, 2002


In this case, tough.

Pretty hard ass for a bodhisattva of wisdom and knowledge there, buddy...
posted by y2karl at 10:58 AM on August 14, 2002


Umm, ok he is a sportswriter, but ultimately he is a reporter, the Time's pays him for his opinions... If he wrote a scathing "letter to the editor" of rival news source on company letterhead, what would be the policy then?

I thought it was the media's job to criticize government, maybe he wants to be more than a sports-writer?

This is just insane. Uber Alles Amerika!

So, let me see:
communism = china = working uncountable numbers of people in horrific environments to produce goods to sell to capitalist countries for vast amounts of money (wait.. I thought communism was to "protect" worker rights from the evils of capitalism, not to turn them into non-unionized slave labor...)

democracy = amerika! = freedom =
"war on terror" - hacking becomes a life-in-prison offense, the FBI can now investigate ANYONE regardless of whether or not a crime is being committed, let's invent an "axis of evil" and then go after our targets one by one (that nasty Saddam he's such a crazy, evil "mofo", he was useful to us agains't Iran...), if you dissent then you are "aiding and abetting" terrorists... how many people have been arrested, being held without rights, how many testimonies are gathered via "torture"?

"war on drugs" - we can seize ALL your assets for having a pot plant in your house. It's big business building prisons...

"war on privacy" - everyone likes getting TIPS, Hoover *LOVED* getting tips...

"war on p2p pirates" - let's extend copyright indefinately, let's build DRM and copy-protection into everyone, let's outlaw fair use, let's allow companies to hack networks/computers with no legal recourse, yet if we were to do the same...

"war on corporate fraud" - let's destabalize the markets even further by going on a witch-hunt (Amerika likes those), because frankly all the people who already have the money, already have the money...

You add it all up, and frankly facism seems attractive...

Yet, you still aren't organizing about this, everyone is still complacent, I mean c'mon you had a revolution based on "tax reform", yet loosing your freedom, your life savings, your privacy is not enough?
posted by jkaczor at 10:58 AM on August 14, 2002


Keep in mind that most media organizations, particularly newspapers, have very strict rules regarding editorial staff's participation in politics. Reporters and editors are generally expected not to run for office, help with an election campaign, etc. Viewed in this context, I think the firing makes perfect sense. Yes, he was a sportswriter--but he was still a reporter.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:04 AM on August 14, 2002


Firing was a bit over the top. Using the company's e-mail was a stupid thing to do. I mean, if he was so hard pressed, he could have used a yahoo e-mail address.

I mean.. if he was at home, he had to then log into his work's e-mail server to send the message, no? Or wait until he went to work the next day to send it from work, which means he copied it, brought it to work, etc..

While I doubt it would hold (being private correspondence, and being rather obvious that it wasn't official company mail), the language the guy used could probably open up the LA Times to a libel suit.
posted by rich at 11:17 AM on August 14, 2002


ok, doesn't this scenario make more sense?

congressman's lackey gets the email, with filters for media companies it gets flagged, so they inform the congressman's PR person (maybe not even the congressman) this PR person calls the LA Times to make sure something horrible isn't about to happen, cites the email. the LA Times says, "no, there is no breaking story about your congressman" PR person, "whew!" and hangs up. the LA Times then on it's own would probably investigate an obvious breach of it's own policies regarding email, which lead to the termination of the employee.

lots of companies have very strict rules about company email, and they should, it is completely like letterhead. worse really, since there is no way on an email to get the organizational level of the person you're talking to. if you get an email from microsoft.com, wouldn't you assume it was some official correspondence, and not some guy that worked there?
posted by rhyax at 11:22 AM on August 14, 2002


They should hire him back as a political analyst or satirist or both. Give him a column and turn him loose.
It is sad that he had to lose his job over it, right or wrong.
posted by a3matrix at 11:30 AM on August 14, 2002


There's no sense in arguing about whether it was wrong or right -- the guy admits it was wrong.

How interesting that you derive your ethics from some sportswriter that you don't even know, whose behavior you have already condemned. Me, I'd rather decide for myself, thanks.
posted by rushmc at 11:31 AM on August 14, 2002


I am wondering how many other people have been fired by the LAT for violation (1st offecne) of the company email policy...

jkaczor: potent post. Irony laden, but sadly too true. I've noticed that in the history of this country of mine that it is more than dificult to organize in a climate where many (if not most) are still well above the world's standard of living and where the control of the masses lies in the corrupt hands of the mass media. I rely on metafilter for a perspective on the world completely unavailable on the airwaves or in most widely available print. The problem is, not too many americans are following this... too many take their cue from the nightly news

< singing> Five O'Clock Follies . . .< /singing>
posted by dorcas at 11:36 AM on August 14, 2002


Pretty hard ass for a bodhisattva of wisdom and knowledge there, buddy...

What can I say, I hold the sword that cuts off delusion. Seriously though, I think that the action taken by the paper was entirely appropriate, and well within its discretion. Would I have done the same thing? Probably. I can't say for sure, because I don't have all the facts. Some of you have characterized this as a technical violation of the company email policy, but I think it's far more serious than that. Robin was representing the newspaper, and should have done so in a professional and thoughtful manner.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:41 AM on August 14, 2002


He probably shouldn't have written the letter on company email, because it was obviously against the rules, which the guy admits he knew when he was doing it; Thomas probably shouldn't have been such a pussy about a fartass letter from some two-bit sportwriter with a bug up his butt, and the Times probably shouldn't have fired him for being such a stupe.

But so far as I can tell, there's no side worth being on here. They're all numbskulls.

where the control of the masses lies in the corrupt hands of the mass media

I would respond to this, but my handlers at AOL-TimeWarner haven't given me my rebuttal text yet.
posted by UncleFes at 11:43 AM on August 14, 2002


From the article I don't get the impression that the company has a strict zero tolerance policy on such emails. If they did, I suspect everyone's expectations would be different. That is - if it was zero tolerance, his boss wouldn't have gone to bat for him and it wouldn't have come as a surprise when he got canned.

I'm amazed at how willing some people are to dismiss this as "business as usual".

My company has a written policy that I can't wear jeans. But I'm at work wearing jeans right now. In fact I usually wear jeans. In fact several other people do as well. If I get fired tomorrow for wearing jeans, will that be business as usual? Or is there something else going on?

I think we should all be more than a little worried that our employers might fire us over something this easy to screw up. If it's so important to the LA Times that this mistake never happen, maybe they should be held responsible for some due diligence rather than patted on the back for firing the guy.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:43 AM on August 14, 2002


So much for newspapers standing up to the powerful.

That's a myth sustained only by those who don't know the newspaper industry. Still, this makes the particular Congressman appear equally as foolish as the bloke who sent the email on 'company stationery'. (Does the LA Times have one of those silly, 47-line email signatures disclaiming itself from everything? It'd be interesting to know.)
posted by riviera at 11:44 AM on August 14, 2002


My company has a written policy that I can't wear jeans. But I'm at work wearing jeans right now. In fact I usually wear jeans. In fact several other people do as well. If I get fired tomorrow for wearing jeans, will that be business as usual? Or is there something else going on?

Would you wear jeans to an important business meeting with clients when they were expecting you to be wearing a suit? If you did, would your employer be justified in firing you?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:49 AM on August 14, 2002


If I get fired tomorrow for wearing jeans, will that be business as usual? Or is there something else going on?

Sometimes you have to fire someone because they're a jagoff - but you can't SAY "I'm firing you because you're a jagoff." That would be bad. So we say,, "I'm firing you because of your flagrant violations of (insert bullshit company rule here)."

Note to y63: I am not saying you are a jagoff; you are, so far as I can see, not a jagoff. Please do not misinterpret colorful analogy for personal attack, since that is not my intention. That goes for all of you. Thanks very much.
posted by UncleFes at 11:51 AM on August 14, 2002


Good point riviera. We don't know what this email looked like. It may not have had a signature and the address may not have mentioned the LA Times. If it was completely clear it was a personal not a work email then the LA Times really should have let it go or given some sort of warning. Sacking a journalist in the present state of the publishing industry is very harsh punishment indeed.
posted by Summer at 11:57 AM on August 14, 2002


How interesting that you derive your ethics from some sportswriter that you don't even know, whose behavior you have already condemned. Me, I'd rather decide for myself, thanks.

wtf? I didn't "derive my ethics" from the reporter. When he says he knows it was wrong, I'm assuming that he meant he knew that it would be viewed by his employer as wrong, not necessarily "wrong" in some metaphysical sense. We all make choices in life, and as adults we should be fully aware that our choices might have repercussions. Secondly, I didn't "condemn" his behavior -- I even said I wouldn't have fired him.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:04 PM on August 14, 2002


Robin was representing the newspaper, and should have done so in a professional and thoughtful manner.

The idea is growing in our society that one necessarily ALWAYS represents one's employer, whatever one's intentions (and owes one's employer everything, down to one's very thoughts...but that's another thread). Is this your belief, as well? What if he HAD sent the same sentiments via his personal email account, and the politician had still contacted his employer looking for censure? What if he had posted the thoughts on a website? If a person has no innate right to represent themself, first and foremost, then how far are modern corporate practices from historical conditions of slavery?
posted by rushmc at 12:05 PM on August 14, 2002


Secondly, I didn't "condemn" his behavior -- I even said I wouldn't have fired him.

I'm not debating the right/wrongness of his behavior with you, I'm questioning the idea that because HE may have said it was wrong it is not worth assessing and/or discussing for us. You said "There's no sense in arguing about whether it was wrong or right," and I disagree strongly with that. If you meant "wrong or right" in a strictly utilitarian or consequentialist way, that certainly wasn't clear in your post.
posted by rushmc at 12:09 PM on August 14, 2002


The idea is growing in our society that one necessarily ALWAYS represents one's employer, whatever one's intentions (and owes one's employer everything, down to one's very thoughts...but that's another thread). Is this your belief, as well?

In a word, no. I represent my employer during work hours on days when I am working, as well as at employer events, and when I communicate to others through employer channels.

What if he HAD sent the same sentiments via his personal email account, and the politician had still contacted his employer looking for censure?

Although it is my understanding that the employer still has the legal right to fire someone for that, I believe it would be ethically wrong, and a breach of the respect an employer should have for the private lives of its employees.

What if he had posted the thoughts on a website?

Same thing.

If a person has no innate right to represent themself, first and foremost, then how far are modern corporate practices from historical conditions of slavery?

Unfortunately, modern employers often do encroach on the private lives of employees. Such intrusion is unethical, and in my opinion, a bad business practice. Is it similar to the "historical conditions of slavery?" Of course not; such an assertion is absurd.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:11 PM on August 14, 2002


Well, it's settled then. Facts are facts. Move along. Nothing to see here. No point discussing whether it was fair. No point taking an elected official to task.

I'm so proud that we live in a country where such matters can be expressed in purely black and white terms. Reactionary agitators who constantly try to poke at the grey areas in search of silly concepts like "fairness" and "justice" are a huge waste of time.


Underneath your sarcasm, I doubt you have a point. His right to express himself is not "black and white issue." However, whether or not Mr. Robins violated the LA Times policy is a black or white issue. Either he sent the e-mail or he did not. Either the he intended the e-mail for personal or professional use. Mr. Robins himself admits that he sent the e-mail and it was for personal use.

Fired. Sheesh. So much for newspapers standing up to the powerful.

The nature of the e-mail is irrelevant, but the fact that the e-mail was sent is.

If Mr. Robins was fire saying the same in a LA Times article then you might have a point.

Same response to jkaczor, your rant/points are in the wrong thread.
posted by Bag Man at 12:17 PM on August 14, 2002


Is it similar to the "historical conditions of slavery?"

You see no similarity in having no right to engage in legal behaviors of your choosing when not at work without severe repercussions to your livelihood? In effect, the person who pays you owns your autonomy, claiming the right not only to have you perform the work you contracted to do, but also to dictate your choices and behavior, even when unrelated to the job. Certainly you can choose to quit and get a new job, but changing masters doesn't alter the underlying situation.

In the immortal words of Bartleby, I prefer not to.
posted by rushmc at 12:28 PM on August 14, 2002


What if he HAD sent the same sentiments via his personal email account

I would say he shouldn't get fired, because his personal life, and what he does when not on the clock and being paid are completely not the business of the company and they have absolutely no right to interfere.

In actuality though, they could fire him for almost anything. Do i think he should be fired for sending personal email to a senator? no. do i think it should be ok to fire someone because they are gay? no. but they're both legal. what can you do?
posted by rhyax at 12:40 PM on August 14, 2002


In effect, the person who pays you owns your autonomy, claiming the right not only to have you perform the work you contracted to do, but also to dictate your choices and behavior, even when unrelated to the job.

Legally speaking, the above statement is totally false. The person paying you, even in an employment-at-will situation, does not have total dominion over you. There are many legal deceives to curb the power of the an employer. They include: The Minimum Wage Act, The Civil rights Act of 1965/1968, OSHA, The Fair Employment Practices Act, the EEOC, etc., etc...

Just because the conduct of the LA Time in this particular this is not barred by law or unfair, does not make Mr. Robins a slave.

The idea is growing in our society that one necessarily ALWAYS represents one's employer, whatever one's intentions (and owes one's employer everything, down to one's very thoughts...but that's another thread).

While I can't speak for all of "our society" (whatever that means), the law most certainly does make a distinction. If there is legal fallout from this situation the concept of "acting as an agent" might be used. This concept has a distinct and discrete set of elements that must be proven.
posted by Bag Man at 12:48 PM on August 14, 2002


Except for the rather narrow set of characteristics which we have seen fit to grant specific legal protections (e.g., race, gender, religion and so on), Bag Man, what personal or idiosyncratic traits or behaviors ARE protected?
posted by rushmc at 12:53 PM on August 14, 2002


"The idea is growing in our society that one necessarily ALWAYS represents one's employer"

Bingo. And in this case the idea that workers are well programmed bots who need to be discarded when they malfunction.

[ot] (and I'm a snarky, elitist, shit stirring jagoff - if people aren't atacking me personally then I must be doing something wrong) [/ot]
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:53 PM on August 14, 2002


You see no similarity in having no right to engage in legal behaviors of your choosing when not at work without severe repercussions to your livelihood?

Actually, no. I can argue my case to other rational people within the complany who may have more power than I. I can, of course, leave the company. I can publicize the shoddy treatment. I can unionize. I can organize a boycott. Other than through my effect on market forces, I don't have the right to dictate to my employer the terms on which I will work. I have entered into a contract with my employer, and in exchange for compensation I agree to perform certain tasks and represent the company in certain ways. If I don't like those terms, I can always go to another company. If none of the companies in a particular field met my particular desires, I can switch fields. My hope is that enough employees are educated about their options so that they can stand up to bullying companies and take their skills elsewhere.

In effect, the person who pays you owns your autonomy, claiming the right not only to have you perform the work you contracted to do, but also to dictate your choices and behavior, even when unrelated to the job. Certainly you can choose to quit and get a new job, but changing masters doesn't alter the underlying situation.

They don't have the power to dictate your choices. They only have the power to dictate whether or not you have a job. There is a significant difference. As I said above, it's unfortunate that some companies feel the need to control the lives of their employees, but that doesn't mean you get to dictate terms.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:56 PM on August 14, 2002


As a more general matter, this page has a pretty good summary of and links to the various laws governing employment discrimination.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:13 PM on August 14, 2002


Other than through my effect on market forces, I don't have the right to dictate to my employer the terms on which I will work.

Ah, the golden rule. Those that have the gold make the rules.

I'm not sure who I feel sorrier for...the slime who make rules like "dress like we tell you to dress" and "don't express any opinion that we don't clear", or the idiots that choose to work under such a system.

(Suits. Ties. Appearance over substance. Don't rock the boat. Please the boss. Business as usual. One would have hoped journalism would be above "business", but that's what happens when journalism becomes nothing more than "business".)

So the reporter used the office email. Not cool. May I recommend that any others here on MetaFilter or throughout the oh so brave world of business march down to their boss' office right now and confess to any personal business done on company time, or using company equipment. Then clear out your desk, because you should be fired, right?

And of course, I'm kind of curious about this numbskull, lying, cowardly politician and/or his staff taking time away from their "job" representing rich fat cats to do a personal little hatchet job on a critic. Despicable....and would appear to be using government resources for personal vendetta. He's the only one in this matter that should be fired.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:59 PM on August 14, 2002


Except for the rather narrow set of characteristics which we have seen fit to grant specific legal protections (e.g., race, gender, religion and so on), Bag Man, what personal or idiosyncratic traits or behaviors ARE protected?

This statement is false too. monju_bosatsu makes great points and I want add to them. The categories, which you state above, are among those enumerated in Civil Rights Acts. However, courts have made clear these categories are not all inclusive; they are only examples. In other words, if you can show a similarity between the way you were discriminated against and the categories in the statute a court is likely to rule in your favor. Plus the other legal limits I noted (The Minimum Wage Act, OSHA, The Fair Employment Practices Act, the EEOC) have little or nothing to do with issues of race, sex and culture. Further there are also many common law civil remedies and limitations on employers (for example recovery for breach of contract, wrongful termination, tortuous interference, unreasonable restrictive covenants not to compete, etc., etc.)
posted by Bag Man at 2:23 PM on August 14, 2002


Bag Man, pretty much every single claim you just made in your post is wrong. And not kinda wrong, but wrong wrong.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:31 PM on August 14, 2002


I have entered into a contract with my employer, and in exchange for compensation I agree to perform certain tasks and represent the company in certain ways.

I disagree. I think that a basic employment contract only covers (and only SHOULD cover) what you do during the hours of actual employment. Anything more is an unwarranted encroachment.

They don't have the power to dictate your choices. They only have the power to dictate whether or not you have a job.

Um, yeah. Okay, back to talking with people grounded in the real world....
posted by rushmc at 2:37 PM on August 14, 2002


Except for the rather narrow set of characteristics which we have seen fit to grant specific legal protections (e.g., race, gender, religion and so on), Bag Man, what personal or idiosyncratic traits or behaviors ARE protected?

This statement is false too.

Um, it's a question, not a statement. How can a question be "false?"

And none of the examples you give seem relevant to the question, except for "wrongful termination," which is so vague as to be meaningless. What is the legal definition of "wrongful termination" and to what sort of situations would it apply (that are not already covered by Civil Rights Acts)?
posted by rushmc at 2:40 PM on August 14, 2002


monju_bosatsu: Other than through my effect on market forces, I don't have the right to dictate to my employer the terms on which I will work.

That may be the way free-market absolutists would like it to be, but that is certainly not the case in reality. The way we the people have dictated these terms and established rights is through decades of labor law, including all the laws and agencies Bag Man cited above.

So, if we the people want to dictate to our employers that they cannot fire us for saying x, y, or z, on or off the job, we could pass a law. In theory.
posted by pitchblende at 2:47 PM on August 14, 2002


Related previous threads.
posted by rushmc at 2:50 PM on August 14, 2002


Bag Man, pretty much every single claim you just made in your post is wrong. And not kinda wrong, but wrong wrong.

pardonyou?, what's your evidence? I have about 40 years of American jurisprudence to back me up. Including a ruling by the California Supreme Court in Marina Point LTD. v. Wolfson 30 Cal.3d 721 (1982). In this case the court asserted that the categories in a California anti-discrimination law were just examples and not all-inclusive. What was there reasoning? The Cally Supreme Court looked at the Civil Rights of the 1960s and said that since the categories in those statutes were just examples and not all inclusive, the Cally law should be construed the same way.

We should all know our rights.
posted by Bag Man at 3:08 PM on August 14, 2002


That may be the way free-market absolutists would like it to be, but that is certainly not the case in reality. The way we the people have dictated these terms and established rights is through decades of labor law, including all the laws and agencies Bag Man cited above.

Well, certainly I oversimplified our current law by comparing it to the free market model, but those established rights your refer to are likely not relevent here. The government dictates to employers what conditions they may not place on their employees. Those proscribed conditions include excessively low pay, long hours, as well as sexual harassment or discrimination based on a number of different criteria. Those conditions not proscribed by the government, however, are those reasonably related to the business decisions made by the employer in its allocation of resources. This is one of those decisions.

Um, yeah. Okay, back to talking with people grounded in the real world....

Enjoy the "real world," where employees get to tell their employers how they're going to do their job, and employers can't assert their own rights to run their own companies, their property, how they see fit within the bounds of the law.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:08 PM on August 14, 2002


I am actually sympathetic to the needs of employers to run their companies as they see fit, monju_bosatsu. Just not to the point where I will validate their attempts to reduce individual human beings to compliant cogs.
posted by rushmc at 3:18 PM on August 14, 2002


I am actually sympathetic to the needs of employers to run their companies as they see fit, monju_bosatsu. Just not to the point where I will validate their attempts to reduce individual human beings to compliant cogs.

I'm not validating any such attempt. Look, I dislike corporations as much as the next guy or gal, and I would never work on a permanent basis in that kind of stifling office environment. On the other hand, I have deep respect for property rights in general and for those who work hard to put together an honest business providing worthwhile goods and services. Employers have the right to establish the way their businesses will be run. At the very least, that has to include the way the employees represent themselves when acting as representatives of the company. In this case, the guy used his work email, and was therefore acting in that capacity. I don't care if he thinks it was for personal use. It wasn't.

I've said a couple of times that if this had been his personal email, I would in no way support a company's rationale behind an attempt to fire him. That would not be an ethical decision, nor a good business practice. That would, however, be within their legal rights. Employees have protection from the most dangerous kind of corporate practices in the employment discrimination laws. They do not need, nor should they have, protection from their own incompetence and unprofessionalism.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:27 PM on August 14, 2002


Anybody checked out the WSJ/MSNBC story today about a disgruntled former Intel employee's e-mails to former co-workers being treated as trespass by the company? It's free here, and it seems to be the inverse (or opposite or whatever) of the issue in the original post .....
posted by Jos Bleau at 5:08 PM on August 14, 2002


See, all the legal protection in the world against unlawful termination is pretty much worthless if you can't afford to take the case to court, or at least use the threat of a lawsuit to leverage your way back into a paycheck. For a sportswriter with a family, I doubt there would be much recourse, even if he was legally in the right.

Companies tend to win against individuals in questions of law, simply because they have more resources in that arena. That's one of the large problems with our legal system -- money largely dictates your ability to defend your legal rights. So no matter what your rights are de jure, if you're poor, your de facto situation is pretty bleak.

That said, this particular situation doesn't strike me as one where the little guy is getting wrongfully stomped.
posted by amery at 5:35 PM on August 14, 2002


That's one of the large problems with our legal system -- money largely dictates your ability to defend your legal rights.

What's the alternative?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:58 PM on August 14, 2002


See, all the legal protection in the world against unlawful termination is pretty much worthless if you can't afford to take the case to court, or at least use the threat of a lawsuit to leverage your way back into a paycheck. For a sportswriter with a family, I doubt there would be much recourse, even if he was legally in the right.

Every law that I can think of off the top of my head, federal and among the various states, which restricts termination of the employer-employee relationship, also provides for attorney's fee awards to a victorious plaintiff.

The practical effect of this is that a former employee with a real case has an excellent chance of vindicating his or her rights. Former employees with frivolous cases also have a somewhat decent chance of padding their nest egg a bit.

Lack of a vigorous plaintiff's bar is NOT a problem we have in the United States.
posted by mikewas at 10:47 PM on August 14, 2002


Companies tend to win against individuals in questions of law...

Amery, got a source for that factoid?
posted by mikewas at 10:49 PM on August 14, 2002


pardonyou?, what's your evidence? I have about 40 years of American jurisprudence to back me up. Including a ruling by the California Supreme Court in Marina Point LTD. v. Wolfson 30 Cal.3d 721 (1982).

Bag Man, I practice employment law every day -- day in and day out -- and have for seven years. I practice in Michigan, not California, but I can assure you that there is no state in which you could succeed with an argument that you are a member of some other class than those enumerated in the civil rights laws (why do you think there's always a fight about adding "sexual orientation" to those enumerated factors?). More specifically, the statute on which Marina Point was based was subsequently amended. Also, that case had to do with housing discrimination, not employment (there's a separate law for employment). Most importantly, however, the California Supreme Court subsequently re-evaluated its reasoning in Marina Point under the current law and determinated that it the categories are limited to those enumerated. Harris v. Capital Growth Investors, 52 Cal.3d 1142 (1991).

Next, asserting that the Fair Employment Practices Act and the EEOC have "little or nothing to do" with race, sex, or culture is 180 degrees from the truth. Finally, in general there is no such cause of action as "wrongful termination" in and of itself. A claim for wrongful termination is generally based on one of the other factors you listed (i.e., breach of contract, or the civil rights laws). Finally, in general an employee cannot maintain a claim for "tortious interference" against his or her employer because a party cannot tortiously interfere with its own contracts.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:29 AM on August 15, 2002


mikewas: Amery, got a source for that factoid?

If you mean, do I have statistics to back up my position, no. It's kind of hard to find believable numbers on things that never happened -- ie, people who get wrongfully terminated and didn't take their case to court because they couldn't afford it. All the numbers that do exist are specious at best, since we don't know which claims have merit and which are bunk until they get to court.

Got a source to say I'm wrong, or do you just want to take absence of evidence to mean evidence of absence? I share your skepticism, but without hard and fast statistics we're left making our judgment on the structure of the system, in which the lack of money can be a significant impediment. Surely you're not claiming that money is an irrelevant factor here?

mikewas: Every law that I can think of off the top of my head, federal and among the various states, which restricts termination of the employer-employee relationship, also provides for attorney's fee awards to a victorious plaintiff.

Yes, if you take it to court and win. If you can't afford to take it to court in the first place, the ability to recoup your costs doesn't matter too much. <anecdotal evidence>When I got shitcanned, it didn't matter how right I was -- I had to worry about paying rent, not hiring a lawyer. I was simply too poor to take the case to court.</anecdotal evidence>

While it's true that there are many frivolous lawsuits in the US, that doesn't mean we should assume all good lawsuits make it to court.
posted by amery at 7:04 AM on August 15, 2002


pardonyou?,

I'm sorry if you missed my point by a bit. I was not asserting that Mr. Robbins could use any of the statutes or civil remedies that I suggested. I was responding to rushmc's post that employment is akin to slavery. As an employment lawyer, you of all people should realized that no one has absolute dominion over a person just because that person is an employee. Perhaps an employer has disproportionate power an employee, but that does not make the employee a slave. A chattel slave does not have any rights or has very few rights. An employee has lots of rights. Not to mention that an employed person receives compensation for his or her work and a chattel slave does not. Also, as a lawyer you know that nothing in the law is etched in stone. A creative attorney might very well be able to convince a court of almost anything or fit his or her client under a statute that at first seems a bit farfetched. To sum up, I only was arguing that as employee you do have rights.

I'm sorry that my post took the thread a little far a field, but the statement that being a employee (even one "at will") is like being a slave seemed a little extreme to me.

Back to Mr. Robin...I sympathize him, but given the facts I don't think The LA Times did anything outside the bounds of reasonableness. Mr. Robin violated a company policy and was fired. Mr. Robin had other options available to him to contact Congressman Thomas, but chose to do what he did anyway. Not to mention The LA Weekly is extremely bias and what they pass of as "News" is often their own opinion. Sometimes those pesky facts get the way. Their indictment of Congressman Thomas was unfair considering they presented absolutely no evidence that he really did anything wrong or illegal. That bothered me a bit. Again, The Weekly simply tossed out innuendo and used the phrase: Thomas: Fully in favor of his own free speech under the congressman's picture. That's not fair or good journalism. If the NY Times or LA Times had done that, I would have all over them too.

I have no problem with the alternative Press or investigative journalism. In fact, I sometimes read Chicago's Reader. However, those newspapers should also he held up to scrutiny.

If the LA Times had censored one of Mr. Robin's articles that would be a different story. Or if Mr. Robin made the comment in public and "the government" stopped him from speaking that would also be another story. But neither of those two hypotheticals occurred.

P.S. I know that the Maria Point case involved a housing dispute, but the reasoning at the time applied to similar Federal statues (not just housing).

P.S.S. I concede that EEOC has everything to do with race (perhaps I made a hasty post), but many provisions of the Fair Labor Practices Act have nothing to do with race at all. Many of them are with respect to overtime wages and minimum wage levels.
posted by Bag Man at 9:42 AM on August 15, 2002


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