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Dooces are wild and lawsuits are flying

Carlos Miller

With so many people losing their jobs over their blogs these days, it’s no wonder why South Florida blogger Rick was so insistent about remaining anonymous.

On Monday, a Miami Realtor named Lucas Lechuga was fired over something he posted on his Real Estate blog, accordi

Carlos Miller
With so many people losing their jobs over their blogs these days, it’s no wonder why South Florida blogger Rick was so insistent about remaining anonymous.

On Monday, a Miami Realtor named Lucas Lechuga was fired over something he posted on his Real Estate blog, according to The Miami Herald.

And last week, Palm Beach Post reporter S.V. Date resigned over rumors that it had to do with a “dispute over a blog Date was writing away from work”, according to The Daily Pulp.

And a simple Google search comes up with loads of similar stories of people losing their jobs over the years because of their blogs, including a Microsoft worker, a Starbucks employee, a CIA contractor and a fashion editor.

A few years ago, this site compiled a list of people who had been “dooced”, a term coined by Heather Armstrong, who in 2002, became one of the first bloggers to lose her job over her online words. Back then, the media called it a “web log”.

Today, Armstrong’s blog, dooce, rakes in enough money to support her family in Salt Lake City.

Then there is Ellen Simonetti (pictured right), who was fired from her job as a Delta Air Lines flight attendant in 2005 after she posted “inappropriate” photos on herself in uniform on her blog called Queen of Sky: Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant. To see the rest of her “inappropriate” photos. click here. These are safe to view at work.

And let’s not forget Jessica Cutler (pictured below), who was fired from her job as a Congressional aide in 2004 for her blog called Washingtonienne, where she revealed intimate details of her sex life, which lead to a Congressional scandal. As if that never happened before.

Both Simonetti and Cutler seized the opportunity to publish books about their incidents. Both have appeared on numerous talk shows. And both continue to blog.

Simonetti’s blog now is called Diary of a Fired Flight Attendant. And Cutler’s blog is now called Jessica Cutler Online.

Simonetti, who is suing Delta Airlines for sex discrimination on the basis that they did not fire male employees for having blogs, nows uses her blog to call for clearer defined rules about blogging and the work place. Delta Airlines, ironically, has since filed for bankruptcy.

Cutler, who is being sued for invasion of privacy by a former sex partner and was once described as having “dedicated her life to government service in Washington DC” by a Syracuse newspaper, hasn’t hopped on any noble causes.

But she has posed for Playboy. And she doesn’t hesitate to ask her readers to donate money so she can buy “slutty clothes and drugs”. For more explicit Playboy photos of Cutler, click here. But beware if you are at work.

As of right now, there are no specific laws that protect bloggers from losing their job because of what they write.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization that defends free speech on the Internet, listed the following five methods that would enable one to blog without getting fired:

1. Political Opinions
Many states, including California, include sections in their Labor Code that prohibit employers from regulating their employees’ political activities and affiliations, or influencing employees’ political activities by threatening to fire them. If you blog about membership in the Libertarian Party and your boss fires you for it, you might very well have a case against him or her.

 

2. Unionizing
In many states, talking or writing about unionizing your workforce is strongly protected by the law, so in many cases blogging about your efforts to unionize will be safe. Also, if you are in a union, it’s possible that your contract may have been negotiated in a way that permits blogging. Some states protect “concerted” speech about the workplace, which means that if two or more people start a blog discussing the conditions in their workplace, this activity could be protected under local labor laws.

3. Whistleblowing

Often there are legal shields to protect whistleblowers–people who expose the harmful activities of their employers for the public good. However, many people have the misconception that if you report the regulatory violations (of, say, toxic emissions limits) or illegal activities of your employer in a blog, you’re protected. But that isn’t the case. You need to report the problems to the appropriate regulatory or law enforcement bodies first. You can also complain to a manager at your company. But notify somebody in authority about the sludge your company is dumping in the wetlands first, then blog about it.

4. Reporting on Your Work for the Government
If you work for the government, blogging about what’s happening at the office is protected speech under the First Amendment. It’s also in the public interest to know what’s happening in your workplace, because citizens are paying you with their tax dollars. Obviously, do not post classified or confidential information.

5. Legal Off-Duty Activities
Some states have laws that may protect an employee or applicant’s legal off-duty blogging, especially if the employer has no policy or an unreasonably restrictive policy with regard to off-duty speech activities. For example, California has a law protecting employees from “demotion, suspension, or discharge from employment for lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.” These laws have not been tested in a blogging context. If you are terminated for blogging while off-duty, you should contact an employment attorney to see what rights you may have.

As these incidents and lawsuits continue to rise, there is no doubt that the issue will soon be addressed by members of Congress. That is, if they are not tied up with Jessica Cutler.

As for the recent South Florida cases, Date, who has already published numerous books, including the apocalyptic “Jeb: America’s Next Bush” will probably never look back and continue to unleash his literary creativity without the constraints of the corporate media chains.

But Lechuga may not be so lucky.

The Realtor who ran the blog, Miami Condo Investments, is facing a $25 million defamation lawsuit after blogging that developer Tibor Hollo went bankrupt in the 1980s, and for predicting that at least half of the buyers who purchased units at Hollo’s Opera Tower project would default within six months. Hollo also sued Lechuga’s former employer, Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell of Coral Gables.

On Nov. 25th, Lechuga wrote the following on his blog about Opera Tower:

“‘My opinion is that this development is doomed.”

And on Jan. 10th, he wrote:

“This developer went bankrupt in the 1980′s and I think we’ll see a repeat performance within the next 6 months. What do I know, though? I’m no real estate oracle.’”

Hollo claims he never went bankrupt, even though he lost several properties during the early 1990s.

Robert Jarvis, a constitutional law and ethics professor at Nova Southeastern University, who isn’t involved in the case, told the Herald that he doubts Lechuga will be held liable for defaming Hollo.

”Courts understand [blogs] are written in unedited, unvetted fashion,” Jarvis said. “There’s a lot of hyperbole. That’s why it’s so difficult to win defamation lawsuits.”

Meanwhile, Lechuga gave his side of the story on his blog.

The reason why I wrote the post is because I was receiving a lot of phone calls from contract holders of the development telling me that they had no intention on closing on their condos. In my opinion, a blog is a vehicle to share opinions, thoughts and concerns. I was merely sharing these concerns with potential buyers and contract holders. About three weeks ago, a local newspaper disclosed a story about a class-action lawsuit against the developer filed by contract holders wanting to get out. This topic was an area of concern, and one that I felt needed to be addressed to my readers.

Perhaps Lechuga should hook up with Simonetti, who has become an advocate for employees fired for their blogging. Incidentally, she happens to be working in real estate these days.

Meanwhile, I will see what I can do to persuade Culter and Simonetti to come down to Miami for a photo shoot of them together, which I don’t believe has been done yet.

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