Teacher loses job over Facebook photo, files lawsuit

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order, Privacy, Social networks

teacher cartoonWell, the hand-over-your-Facebook-credentials-to-your-employer battle is heating up.

People who have allegedly lost jobs because they have refused to hand over their Facebook passwords to employers, are starting to go public with their stories. Some, like teacher's aide Kimberly Hester, are even filing lawsuits.

Kimberly Hester was a teacher's aide at Frank Squires Elementary in Michigan.

In her own time, she put up a Facebook post intended to make her co-worker laugh: a picture showing trousers crumpled around some shoes with the caption "Thinking of you". She told news station WSBT, "It was very mild, no pornography."

You can view the picture that she posted in this WSBT video segment and then take our poll:

Reportedly, a student's parent, who happened to be Facebook friends with Ms Hester, saw the post and reported it to school officials.

Nice "friend". I wonder whether this friend contacted Ms Hester first and talked to her about why the image was offensive? (Perhaps this should be a reminder to us all to connect with real-life friends only on Facebook)

The school district's superintendent, Robert Colby, is said to have looked into the complaint. Ms Hester says he repeatedly requested access to her Facebook account, but she always flatly refused on the ground of privacy.

Ms Hester shared a letter from the Lewis Cass ISD Special Education Director with WSBT that stated:

…in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to you[r] Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly.

Kimberly HesterThe district put Ms Hester on paid administrative leave after she refused to provide Mr Colby access to her account. She was later suspended without pay.

So this case is a little different to employee candidates being asked for details as part of a job interview. Ms Hester was accused of wrong-doing by a student's parent. Now I know little of the inner workings of schools, but I imagine that all schools need to take parents' complaints seriously and look into them to decide whether any action should be taken.

I wonder whether Ms Hester provided the superintendent with the image in question. Surely that would be enough for Mr Colby to make a decision on whether she broke the rules.

Was Ms Hester really suspended just because she didn't provide access to her Facebook profile? If this is the case, it seems really wrong.

And I fear this is only the tip of the iceberg. I suspect we are going to see a lot more on this issue in the weeks to come.

According to Southbend Tribune, Michigan state representatives Matt Lori and Aric Nesbitt have recently contacted Ms Hester. They are including her story in House Bill 5523.

The proposed legislation deems to make it illegal for employers to ask employees for social media login information.

Teacher image courtesy of ShutterStock
Kimberly Hester image courtesy of Techlal

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54 Responses to Teacher loses job over Facebook photo, files lawsuit

  1. The_J · 851 days ago

    'merica...

  2. Benjamin Eason · 851 days ago

    Sharing your password with your employer so that they may access your account explicitly violates the Facebook Terms of Service (revision April 26, 2011).
    Note section 4, Registration and Account Safety, provision 8:
    "You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."

    Why isn't this fact mentioned in any of the recently published news reports on this issue?

    • Jon Fukumoto · 850 days ago

      I agree with you. Revealing your Facebook password to anyone is a violation of Facebook's privacy policies. Requiring a present employee to reveal their Facebook password is a violation of the privacy policies you mention and can lead to the deletion of the account. It should be illegal for any employer to asks anyone for their Facebook login credentials. If I were in an Interview and was asked for my Facebook password, I would refuse on the grounds of the privacy polices set by Facebook and end the interview. I refuse to work for any employer who does such unethical things.

  3. Liz · 851 days ago

    I think teachers, aides, those who work in the schools system are better off keeping two FB pages. A private one for close friends and family and one that can be more public used to interact with co-workers, students, parents, anything school related. In this day and age and potential for over-sharing or mindless sharing, it seems rather foolish to mix your personal and professional life on FB, especially if you are working in the school system. In another profession, it may not be a big deal but when you are dealing with children, specifically working with other people's children, it is best to be cautious.

    • mike · 851 days ago

      Point to me is that one should not have to keep two pages. Eff that. My FB page is no more my employers business than the cleanliness of my house. Is that next? They going to want to come and see my house too? Pet my dog? Eat my food? Screw my wife??? Where does it stop if we don't stop it here???

    • soshimo · 851 days ago

      @liz that's pretty much what linked in is - your professional facebook. I use linked in specifically for professional contacts and communication. It's only recently that facebook allowed you to use a different name in the TOS and I'm still not sure you can have two accounts. At one point you couldn't unless you were part of the developer program (you need a second account to test your apps).

      But I agree, keep only your close friends and family on facebook. People laugh at me because I only have 20 or so friends on facebook but I know I can depend on any one of those 20 in a bind. If I had hundreds I know I couldn't say the same.

    • sofi · 851 days ago

      As far as I know it's against Fb regulations - when you create an account you agree to have only one.

    • Senatanni · 850 days ago

      I agree 100%
      School and private must be kept seperate.
      Then these kinds of things would not be happening.
      You never can tell what might offend someone.

    • Andy · 850 days ago

      Liz has the right idea, but I think it applies to everyone. Also, as was mentioned in the article, people should only "friend" people they truly consider a friend. But I'm sure even that could cause problems, as I'm sure everyone had a falling out with a friend at some point in their lives.

      Personally I think people need to stop putting so much personal information about themselves online when they end losing control over what happens to that information.

    • William · 186 days ago

      One could easily create a FB page, rather than create a second account. Give the page link to everyone NOT related, or not closely friends with, allowing them to "like" your page. Keep teachers/parents relations to the page, and close friends and trusted relatives on your profile/friends list.

      However, I find the entire employer of anything require access to my FB account, beyond simply going to my profile, and clicking "friends," as a violation of my personal rights and freedoms. Sorry, but that's that. Maybe I'm just to old . . .

  4. Laurie · 851 days ago

    If she sent the image to a student that would be a whole different thing. Since she is a teacher's aide, she is not allowed to have a life? If there was proof of a relationship between the two co-workers that had violated some rule in her contract then yes, fire her. Asking for a facebook password is like asking what bar do you go to and suspending them for how a person acts there. People these days are getting way too offended over nothing. Instead of a facebook password, why don't employers just send out spies to view a person's private life. I believe an employer, future or current, can look up the person's name and see whatever they have as public access, but have no right to ask for their password. Besides, there are questions that one cannot ask at an interview,(ie, race, age, religion) but all that would be found on facebook. Just because someone has many party photos up, does not mean they will be a bad worker. You cannot judge a person by their facebook.

  5. KHill · 851 days ago

    The technical school I graduated from last year has a policy that teachers cannot 'friend' a student on Facebook until after they graduate. I believe that schools, all schools, should have the policy that teachers cannot 'friend' a student, or any member of the student's family. Because school is school, and personal life is personal life, for one reason. Also, she just should have shown the school authorities what picture she posted; she's right to claim privacy for her Facebook account, and the whole thing makes me sick, this employer thinking they have a right to invade your privacy like that. It's a felony to read someone's mail; why isn't it a felony to pry into someone's personal account? We are losing our freedom little bit by little bit ... with the article you posted about people's email and such being pried into in the UK, I'm sure we won't be too far behind. Sad.

  6. D. Blackburn · 851 days ago

    This is why I have all my co-workers in a separate list with different access rights to my FaceBook posts. Also, I use the private messaging for 90% of images that I intend for specific people. If they want to post it that is their decision.

    • Guesty McPhoebis · 847 days ago

      Nice setup you've got there.

      Keeping photos in messages is a good idea.

      But keeping lists/groups and assigning them access rights won't stand up to another Facebook "glitch" or another case where Facebook decides to unilaterally and retroactively re-assign all your permissions, making them more public.

      They've done it before.

      They'll do it again.

  7. Click through and watch the "WSBT video segment"... the school superintendent can't spell properly. Around 1m29s: "access to you Facebook page," magnified on-screen from the original letter.

    I palm my face...

  8. Prattle On, Boyo · 851 days ago

    Since employers are free to force employees to piss in a cup, peak at their credit or lack thereof, and otherwise crawl up the rear bumper, they're taking it a step further by asking for social networking passwords. What's next? Passwords to bank accounts and keys to the front door? Perhaps a camera in the bathroom and bedroom just to ensure the employee isn't doing anything the company does not approve of. The ancient Romans had a name for this kind of employer/employee relationship. It was called slavery.

    • mike · 850 days ago

      The name most ancient Romans used was probably ἀτμενία.

      If you are going to be so specific you should probably go all the way ;-)

  9. jinxmchue · 851 days ago

    Imagine if this had been a man who posted something suggestive like this (whether or not it was directed at a female co-worker). Does that put the situation in a different light? He would've been fired without question or debate and rightfully so. So why is it different when the culprit is a woman? Methinks some people are being sexist.

    • no privacy?? · 851 days ago

      Wow. Judge, jury & executioner. You've decided that an image that this woman posted on her personal FB page is suggestive, that she *should* have been fired for it, and that the only reason her firing is in question, is her gender. On what grounds should she be fired? You can't fire people willy-nilly, just because you don't like something they did. Additionally, she wasn't suspended for the photo, she was suspended for not giving the school admin her Facebook password - which is actually against FB policy. When you sign up with FB you agree to not give out the password to your account, doing so is a violation of FB policy. Methinks that unless she did something that was determined to be causing harm to the children at her school, people have no business meddling in this person's private life.

  10. Jim Todd · 851 days ago

    I am 100% on the side of Ms Hester. Facebook has in plain text on its website that users are NOT to share their passwords to anyone, and that doing so can result in suspension of their account.

    Furthermore, Facebook has stated that they don't believe that companies should be allowed to view private Facebook pages, as they could be exposed to items on those pages that those companies aren't able to deal with. From the note from Erin Egan, Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer:

    "Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information. If they don’t—and actually, even if they do—the employer may assume liability for the protection of the information they have seen or for knowing what responsibilities may arise based on different types of information (e.g. if the information suggests the commission of a crime)."

    Now, I note that Ms Egan's comments concern employers who are attempting to get a prospective employee's Facebook password. However, what she said regarding protecting a Facebook user's privacy applies equally well in this case. At no point should an employer ever be allowed to request an employee's password, and even if they do, the employee should feel perfectly free to not divulge that password, lest Facebook find out and thus cancel that user's account.

  11. SchoolsOut · 851 days ago

    In the old days teachers had to remain spinsters, they weren't allowed to be out past a certain time except for school functions and they were never ever allowed in a place that served alcohol. It was eventually realized these rules infringed on a teachers personal life and that wasn't right and the rules were repealed. Are we heading backwards?

  12. theadmijr · 851 days ago

    This is an elementary school. For teaching staff to be posting sexually suggestive images on Facebook such that Pupils or Pupils' parents can view them is just not acceptable. Frankly I wouldn't want an image such as that to pop up in my news feed, especially if I had need of an appetite, never mind the fact that it's coming from someone who's spending the day with my kids.

    It's not a question of whether the reaction is ott; her conduct was simply completely unprofessional, and the school had every right to want to see the image in question. I really don't think that the staff wanted to look through all her photos and posts because they were bored and wanted something to look at. She posted innapropriate material for the puplic to view. They wanted to know whether there was any more, and how bad the photo in question was. It's perfectly within their legal rights to request that information on this basis.

    The way the interviewed "legal expert" was cut-off was so cheap and obvious - she was about to rationalise the situtation, and so-it's-not-really-that-bad-then news isn't quite as exciting as this American sensationalist pap.

    • Bru · 850 days ago

      Why don't you crawl back into the hole you came out of? When I was in elementary school, I was exposed to far worse pictures by my own parents. There is no reason whatsoever that school officials should have ever asked for her password. It's akin to them wanting to rifle through her mailbox whenever they please.

      What should have happened was she should have been told that there had been complaints, and she should either defriend or limit the access of any parents/students. That's it. No suspension. No "assuming the worst".

      The last I checked, in America, we have freedom of speech. As long as what she is posting doesn't violate FB rules, then she has the freedom to express herself in any way she wishes on FB.

    • Machin Shin · 850 days ago

      Is it just me that is wondering what happened to the definition of public and private?

      "She posted innapropriate material for the puplic to view. They wanted to know whether there was any more, and how bad the photo in question was."

      Ok, she posted it in public, so why do they need her password? Why don't they log in with their own account and go view the "public" photo in question? Anything that they have a right to look at they can look at with their account. Anything they need her password to see is not public and so none of their business.

  13. B.T. · 851 days ago

    Good for her. I hope the whole social media monitoring of employees backfires. You have a right to a private life and all this monitoring is overly intrusive. Public employers cannot keep hiding behind the "you are representing the agency" all the time. Because you are not when you are dealing with friends on your social media sites. You also have the right to an opinion, thoughts, and speech.

    Someone needs to win a major lawsuit against these public employers. This woman should also sue the idiot "friend" who complained for causing her a hardship. There is always some "person" out there who complains and employers (and often media) listen to them and make a big deal about things, instead of saying, "hey lady, who cares, get a life"

  14. Onthefence · 851 days ago

    While I don't agree with employers demanding Facebook access, there's much to be said for appropriate conduct with co-workers. Frankly, if a co-worker sent me such a picture, it would make me uncomfortable and I would question this woman's professionalism. Very tacky! Such posts are better reserved for close friends, etc.

  15. Aammon · 851 days ago

    "How likely are you to recommend Naked Security to a friend or colleague?"

    Very.

    But on your 0-10 scale which end is likely and which is unlikely?

  16. Steve Williamson · 851 days ago

    It is already against Facebook's Terms of Service to share your login details with anyone. Regardless of the reason this lady was suspended - the employer should not be asking for such information.

  17. Mick_Slick · 851 days ago

    No employer has the right to invade a person's privacy unless it compromises the company's proprietary policies. I wouldn't work for a company that asked to creep my FB or ask about my credit rating. What does that have to do with my qualifications, especially in these times when everyone is defaulting on loans, mortgages, whatever. I have no problem giving a background check so the employer is comfy I'm not going to rob them blind, but that's the limit. My personal life is just that...personal. And if I choose to include you in my list of friends I'm willing to share with you, then great. If not, tbss!

  18. Michael · 851 days ago

    FaceBook certainly 'helps you connect and share with those important in your life'. Especially with the kind of 'friends' with the position and intent to get you sacked.

  19. GGG · 851 days ago

    In our little town we have a Child Protective Services worker that has been seen VERY drunk and out of control angry at times because of it, yet she keeps her job.So I suppose it depends on where you live and what is tolerated by your supervisors.
    In my opinion though, I agree the idea of having two facebooks, one for private life and one for your business life. Are they going to monitor (and enforce) everyone's life outside of the job now? No more going out to a bar or club? After all, foul language and off color jokes might be told there! And no more firday nights out dancing either, the boss might not like the style of dance you like....No more weekend lives for those who are controlled by the boss.

  20. sofi · 851 days ago

    1. Private is private and public is public. If the photo was supposed to be directed to a co-worker, why was it seen by other 'friends'? No pornography in that pic, but frankly distasteful especially for larger audiences. As D. Blackburn posted one needs to adjust messages accordingly and (unfortunately) with skill and thought.
    2. Asking for a password I guess is only justified in case of suspicion of committing a crime and by appropriate authorities (and it's not your employer). In that case it was not necessary. A 'friend' who told the headmaster about the post could have shown the pic themselves and that should be enough.
    3. It seems to be that there are really high moral requirements towards edu-workers as if they are supposed to be more like saints than common rational people. Isn't that too harsh?
    But knowing about that kind of expectations and posting a stupid photo is just reckless.

  21. Ellen · 851 days ago

    Note that this whole thing is about what a teacher aide posted on her FB account, but the survey question is about what you would do if your child's TEACHER posted such a thing--while I think that it was wrong of the school to suspend her over something so stupid, I also am concerned that teachers get enough of a bad rap already, without having other staff's actions attributed to them.

  22. Gadget · 851 days ago

    The survey question you ask doesn't really apply to the situation you describe.
    1. I would not approve of my child having facebook contact with their teacher, that should be kept separate.
    2. I think the teacher has a right to post whatever she wants on her facebook and its none of the employers business

    She needs to be sure that :
    1. Her privacy is narrowed to "friends only" (which everyone should do in my opinion). That will virtually eliminate the chance of her students seeing her postings.
    2. She obviously needs to review her criteria for friending people...make sure you really know people you are friending.

  23. R Johns · 851 days ago

    If some employer or anyone I do not expressly wish to have looking at my facebook posts demands to view it against my wishes they should have to acquire a court-order to do so, including the damn government. That way the Judiciary process will be accountable & provide a level of protection of my rights. That needs to be set in law, this "grey area" is simply being exploited "because they can".

  24. Dan · 851 days ago

    Wait, if the schools are funded by tax payers, why can't the tax payers demand all their employees' passwords to Facebook accounts? I'd like to see the superintendent backpedal if he were confronted with that demand. Maybe we should be able to see Robert Colby's browser history to see how much time he is reading his Google/Yahoo/Hot/etc emails...or maybe see his fantasy activities. And since it seems this isn't limited to only access from school computers (since I am sure Ms Hester likely uses her home computer and/or smart phone for Facebook), we want to see ALL activity - home PC, school PC, public library PC, smart phone, etc. He represents the school district and the tax payers pay that tab so...pony up, Bob!

    Scary idea, isn't it?

  25. Bomyne · 850 days ago

    What she posts on Facebook is her own business. It's a private site, run by a separate company and it has it's own rules and restrictions.

    If she had posted a nudity pic of a student, then perhaps. If she had posted otherwise inappropriate/offensive photos then maybe... HOWEVER, in my opinion, it's facebook they need to contact to deal with the complaint.

    Next thing is they'll want complete access to teacher;'s bank accounts.

    I'm disgusted by this story. Facebook is private. Twitter is private. Google+ is private. Yahoo, MSN, and other social media are PRIVATE. if you have a problem, take it up with the administration of those networks.

    As a side note, doesn't the US have unfair dismissal laws? Cause this seems pretty unfair.

  26. Freegan · 850 days ago

    I agree with protecting your privacy from the prying of megalomaniac bosses.

    But on the broader topic, not everyone has a FaceBook account or wants one.

    What then, if the employer demands access to an account that doesn't exist?

    Surely, the onus is on him to prove otherwise.

    Or is it?

  27. Bill Weye · 850 days ago

    Once you add someone to your facebook and they can see things you post, your facebook is no longer private, if your settings allow anyone searching you to see what you post, it's no longer private.

    If you lived in a glass house with nothing obscuring your house from the street, your house isn't private as the general public can see it, same with facebook and twitter, they are NOT private, they are public mediums.

    The only private things in facebook are direct messages as they are between TWO people, or the people you intended to get them, if someone else see's them, you can argue that the correspondence is indeed private, and anyone would agree.

    People need to realize we've made social media such a part of our lives, we have become transparent, once you do that, you're no longer being private, posting your business for people to see (I'm sure we ALL have that one person on our friends list) doesn't make that business private any more.

    My interactions with my parents for example, are private because they don't occur on facebook, when I post on someones wall or they on mine, that is NOT private as ANYONE who is on my friends list, (or with the changes now, their friends) can see the comment posted and in some cases any responses.

    The issue is, a PARENT saw it, which means a CHILD could have seen it if they were sitting with their parents at the computer, or the parent forgot to log out.

    It's unfortunate she got dismissed, but it's her own fault, social media IS NOT private any more than going to a bar for a SOCIAL GATHERING is private..

  28. Robert W. · 850 days ago

    Asking for any password is Criminal Solicitation. Giving your password based on that
    is Criminal Facilitation. Anyone except the owner of an account who accesses it is now
    guilty of Criminal Computer Trespass, Unauthorized Access, and a variety of Federal
    and State criminal computer offenses.
    Have anyone who asks for your social media or other passwords arrested by filing a
    criminal complaint. Call the police if you have to.
    It's time to get real tough on employers who will break the law, and have you do it to
    comply with their request under duress of discipine or termination for non-compliance.

  29. Peter J Taylor · 850 days ago

    Well I hope she wins her lawsuit and is awarded exemplary damages.

  30. BRichins · 850 days ago

    My question becomes more of how the Facebook account was created? Was this account one that had the school's name with it? Was this a personal account of the user herself?

    If the account was created for the intent for school use by the school, then it becomes something that the school can say yes or no on the content. I would even agree to the question of asking for the login information.

    If this account was created for the personal use of the teacher without the school's name being used or referenced, then it is free speech to post whatever. The login information is NYB!!

    The only questionable action (in general) is if the teacher friend'ed people by advertising it on the first day of class for the students. There by making it a "school type account"

  31. William Robinson, Jr. · 850 days ago

    1st of all, I would have said, "show me yours, I'll show you mine". 2nd, anyone on these social media places deserves what ever they get. I sent my kids a piece of software that will COMPLETLY delete all of your info on facebook. I'm 63, and in this day and age, if you think you can't be warrantlessly searched, wire tapped, or have you ISP turn over all of your info to anyone that asks for it, is, quite frankly, STUPID !!

  32. Sentinel150 · 850 days ago

    LOLOLOLOL!, That is so sad, as a member of the law enforcement community this article perked my interest. I saw the picture and for the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was. Then I read the article and dam near fell out laughing. If this is offensive we need to ban T.V. from everywhere.

  33. Kimbo64 · 850 days ago

    There was one key thing that was said in this teacher's aides case, "she was in the privacy of her home not in her official capacity as a teacher's aid." What she does at home is her business. She did not use any government issued equipment to create or post to HER own FB account. Her account information is private. Everyone has an opinion just like the parent that was offended. If you live long enough you will be offended again and again. This woman's job/livelihood should not been affected because someone has an issue about what she did on her own FB page. This social media has nothing to do with the school. You are attempting to violate her privacy and first amendment rights.

  34. Angel · 850 days ago

    Oh! my gosh!!!!
    People! get a life!!!!
    It's the army! or ha ha ha! maybe it is.......
    Leave her alone...
    And that kids parent oh my god!
    First look at one self before you even start to judge...
    and oh YA! there is only one judge!!!!!

    Give her ....the job back... my goodness....

    You go girl... You win!!!!

  35. VFAC · 850 days ago

    It is nice that people are taking an interest in this topic.

    Public debate is a good start to finding a resolution to these issues.

  36. Sebastian · 849 days ago

    Without wishing to sound oversensitive or a zealot I am astonished by a previous post which said:

    "If she had posted a nudity pic of a student, then perhaps".

    "PERHAPS" what? If any member of staff in any school in the UK posted a "nudity pic of a student" they would be OUT of the door and reported to the police.

  37. Sebastian · 849 days ago

    I find it hard to feel sorry for this teaching assistant but actually I do. She teaches in a teaching establishement which has so far failed to educate its staff about the pitfalls of Facebook and other social media. If they had a policy in place and perhaps had educated their staff then it is probable that this incident would never have happened.

    For me the important point is: If teaching staff cannot manage themselves on Facebook or other social media how can we expect them to set an example to our kids?

    I work for three primary schools in the UK and we have over the past few years been required to produce staff policies for Facebook and Social Media use. This has been prompted by teaching staff at other schools publishing material which could bring their school into public disrepute and thereby damage the reputation of their teaching establishment. Futheremore, we have robust child protection policies which do what they say on the wrapper - they protect our children.

  38. Nigel · 849 days ago

    It is just plain wrong for the school administrators to ask for access to her Facebook account. Firing her for refusing to give them that access is even wronger.

    Still, Kimberly Hester kind of pegged the irony meter when she got all emotional in the video, choking back her tears as she whined, "I have a right to privacy". Uh, Kimberly...YOU POSTED ON FACEBOOK! What part of "Facebook is the antithesis of privacy" don't you understand?

    Sheesh...

  39. lwandile · 793 days ago

    why did the teacher loss the job

  40. Magyver · 262 days ago

    Guys, your link to Southwest Tribune is broken, I found the right URL here:

    http://articles.wsbt.com/2012-03-28/facebook-post_31252261

    It mentions the House Bill 5523 part at the bottom.

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About the author

Hi. I am a social, brand and communications expert with 10 years in senior roles in the tech space. I'm currently Sophos' s Global Director of Social Media and Communities. Proudest work achievement? Creating and launching award-winning Naked Security. Outside work, I am a mean cook, an avid reader, a chronic insomniac, a podcast obsessive and blogger .