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Paramedic sacked over Facebook comments sues for unfair dismissal

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An American paramedic sacked for ridiculing her boss on Facebook has launched a first-of-its-kind case for unfair dismissal this month.

Dawnmarie Souza worked for private ambulance company American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc (AMR).

Late last year, the company received a complaint from a customer about her work, so her supervisor asked her to prepare a report on the incident.

Souza wasn't best pleased so when she got home she decided to log in to her personal computer and vent her spleen on social networking site Facebook.

"Looks like I'm getting some time off," she wrote. "Love how the company allows a 17 to be a supervisor."

"17" refers to a code used within AMR to describe psychiatric patients. Apparently Souza also used two expletives to describe her supervisor. A number of colleagues noticed the comments and expressed their agreement.

The fact that Souza used her own computer and her own account to criticise her boss meant nothing once management learned of the comments. They did not see the funny side and promptly sacked her.

Company attorney John Barr said that while workers have a right to talk about wages and working conditions, they should not do so on internet, particularly on highly visible social networking sites like Facebook.

"If you're going to make disgusting, slanderous statements about co-workers, that is something that our policy does not allow," Barr said.

Ms Souza's case has now been taken up by the U.S. National Labour Relations Board (NLRB).

"This is the first complaint we've issued over comments on Facebook, but I have no doubt that we'll be seeing more," said Lafe Solomon, the NLRB's acting general counsel. "We have to develop policies as we go in this fast-changing environment."

Still, despite the relative novelty of the situation, Solomon insists posting comments on Facebook is akin to "talking at the water cooler", which he points out is entirely legal. "The point is that employees have protection under the law to talk to each other about conditions at work," he said.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled to commence in January 2011.

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