Teacher's aide fired for refusing to hand over Facebook password

Teacher's aide fired for refusing to hand over Facebook password

Summary: Kimberly Hester, a teacher's aide at an elementary school, was fired last year for refusing to give her Facebook password to her supervisors. She is now fighting a legal battle with the school district.

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You can add this one to the short but growing list of employers demanding access to Facebook accounts. After refusing to give her Facebook password to her supervisors, Kimberly Hester was fired by Lewis Cass Intermediate School District from her job as an aide to Frank Squires Elementary in Cassopolis, Michigan. She is now fighting a legal battle with the school district.

This all started in April 2011, when Hester was using Facebook on her own time (when she wasn't working at the school). She jokingly posted a picture of a co-worker's pants around her ankles and a pair of shoes, with the caption "Thinking of you."

A parent and Facebook friend of Hester's saw the photo and complained to the school. A few days later, Lewis Cass ISD superintendent Robert Colby asked her three times for access to her Facebook account. Hester refused each of the district superintendent's requests.

Soon after, Colby wrote Hester a letter, a part of which said the following, according to WSBT: "…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." Hester says he put her on paid administrative leave and eventually suspended her. She chose unpaid leave, to collect workman's compensation, and vowed to put up a fight.

"I stand by it," Hester said in a statement. "I did nothing wrong. And I would not, still to this day, let them in my Facebook. And I don't think it's OK for an employer to ask you."

Hester plans to use the letter she received from Lewis in her legal case against the school district. The two parties are scheduled for arbitration in May. She will have a tough time given that there is currently no law barring her employer from asking for access to her Facebook account, although the issue has been put under a spotlight recently (see links below).

Michigan State Representatives Matt Lori and Aric Nesbitt have contacted Hester to let her know they are including her story in House Bill 5523, which aims to make it illegal for employers to ask employees and prospective employees for their Facebook password. Michigan is one of several states currently pushing for legislation that would make such practice illegal.

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Topic: Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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99 comments
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  • Unethical!

    It is against the EULA/ToS of FaceBook and similar sites for one person to give their username and password to another. In order words, Colby is asking Hester to do something unethical in order to prove that she has not done something else unethical. Clearly, the irony escapes Colby!
    Wakemewhentrollsgone
    • Not really

      Ethics and EULAs are two VERY different matters. Breaching the EULA does not necessarily mean you are doing something unethical.
      D.T.Long
      • Yes, Really. . .

        The EULA says you are not to share passwords. Facebook protects its' users accounts via passwords. Facebook is engaged in Interstate Commerce. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, as amended criminalizes, amongst other things, the following:

        Intentionally accessing a computer without authorization to obtain:

        Information from any protected computer if the conduct involves an interstate or foreign communication

        Thus, requiring her to divulge her password IS a definably criminal act. I am NOT a Lawyer, but that's the argument I'd make. . .
        salgak@...
      • Yes

        If you agree with another person or company to follow their rules, and then ignore the rules, that is an ethical issue. You may think that EULAs are stupid or whatever, but the fact remains that it's a voluntary contract you entered into and then chose to ignore it because you didn't respect it. This is the definition of ethics.
        Carlos Alvarez
      • Yes, Really.

        Agreeing to a terms of a contract and then breaking that contract is indeed an unethical behavior. Also Facebook, tho severely lacking in privacy features, is based upon trust relationships. ACcess to my facebook acount would give others access to infromation posted by my friends who trusted me to view their statuses updates photos etc. but has privacy settings to prevent the rest of the world from seeing the same information. By willingly giving a third party, any third party, access to my account I am violating the trust extended to me by my friends. Facebook, is abolutely right to prohibit users granting access to third parties to the users accounts as it is a violation of the trust extended to the user by other users of the network. Willfull violation of those terms of service is certainly unethical and an employer has no right to require it. Hopefully, rational legal minds will prevail and this sort of thing will be illegal in all states in the future.
        techadmin.cc@...
  • Did they ask for the password or the ability to see the page?

    Fine line of difference and the article actually implies the latter.

    In this case, both paties seem to have exhibited extremely poor judgement.
    Bruizer
    • It says clearly . . .

      . . . That she was fired for refusing to give her password to her supervisor.
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
    • Doesn't matter which.

      It Doesn't matter if they're asking for the password or just demanding access. It's her private business, she didn't commit a criminal act or expose the children to it. Our personal freedoms and right to privacy are under assault and this just needs to be stopped before it progresses any further. As far as people, company's and governments invading privacy, do you think that they have some limit as to how far they want to go with it? Because if you really think that this is about as far as they want to take it. Then you are very naive. The old saying is completely true, "if you give them an inch they will take a mile". Even the "Patriot Act" wasn't enough so they had to add on the National Defense Authorization Act" And do you think that will be enough? Our personal freedoms and the "Bill Of Rights" have been under assault for awhile now. They just keep not so slowly chipping away at it. Some people are starting to wake up but most are still blind. So they accuse us of being paranoid crazy's and conspiracy theorists. The " These people are just a bunch of loony conspiracy theorist nut jobs with tinfoil hats" argument is getting harder to justify all the time.
      j-mccurdy@...
    • I agree

      The article, especially the excerpt from the letter she was sent, certainly seem to imply that the school only wanted to see the page that was reported to them as offensive. If this is the case, I don't find it unreasonable. She is working with kids and a parent complained. Schools have a right to know what type of people they are hiring or employing. If they really were demanding a password, then I agree with the general sentiment that they have done wrong.
      Patrick Aupperle
      • Password

        The school asked for her PASSWORD! That means total access to her account.
        cdhanks
      • Logic problem

        Did the parent who saw the photo have administrative access to the aide's account? This parent saw it and complained. So she had administrative access, right?

        If this parent saw the photo without the password, why can't the school? If the parent was a friend of the aide which allowed him/her to see the photo, the school should use that account to see it if it is such a big deal. Hell, that parent would probably hand over their account password for this.
        ultimitloozer
    • Remedial English anyone?

      She refused to give them administrative access (her password). If they wanted to view the page, they can. Just search for her name and you can view her (public) page. Anything beyond that is unreasonable for an employer to ask for since it gives them access to much more than this one photo they apparently want to see.

      And if it is just that one photo they want to see, shouldn't they just be able to see it on her timeline since a parent of a student apparently was able to see it?
      ultimitloozer
      • I dunno...this one is tricky

        Employees are typically "at large." That is, with the exception of protected classes of which members cannot be fired for belonging, you can be fired for most any reason, [i]or no reason at all.[/i] The school felt they needed to see something on her Facebook page to determine whether or not she was an employee with values consistent with their institutional ones. Unlike our homes, purses, or other personal belongings, I do not believe that Facebook qualifies as a "private" place. It is not ours. We don't even [i]rent[/i] it (like an apartment or hotel room). Things we upload to Facebook are in the hands of a corporation. If you don't want the world to know something, [i]don't put it on Facebook[/i]. If you do put it on Facebook, be prepared to face the consequences.

        I would, in fact, argue that [i]Facebook[/i] has a right to protect itself from unauthorized access, but they weren't the one's fired. The employee can of course keep knowledge (her password) to herself, but she can also of course be fired for doing so.
        x I'm tc
  • Best bit is the method to sack her

    First leave, then suspension, sorry leave so she could go on compo.

    The system is a joke. Little wonder the US education system is that beacon of quality.
    Richard Flude
  • Sure hope she wins!

    And that the law prohibiting an employer from requiring this information is passed.
    Userama
  • Love the fact they wrote it down for all to see:)

    Dear sir or madame,

    Because you will not allow us access to personal views, religelous ideals, political and social view we may find offensive we are letting you go. Please keep in mind that while years of employer/employee law state clearly you as an employees have indeed a right to a personal life and to have personal views we your employer might on some level object too. We have found a way around prior established law and will take advantage of said loophole until said loophole is filled and or closed.

    Thank you

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
    • Not sure I agree

      Pretty sure if you hold "personal views...you employer might on some level object too" that is a perfectly valid reason for being fired.

      In fact, a perfectly valid reason for being fired is "because I said so." Your employer doesn't [i]need[/i] a reason at all!
      x I'm tc
  • Requiring facebook login info as part of jog function

    This is really bullshit. No one should be required to provide access to private information for any reason without a court ruling. This is supposedly how our legal system works. Even given that courts seem too willing to require facebook passwords to be given, but really these people did not even go as far as doing that.
    wgianopoulos
    • 5th amendment

      Even with a court ruling it would be a violation of her fifth amendment right not to have to be compelled to testify against herself.
      j-mccurdy@...
      • Don't forget 4th amendment

        The 4th amendment protect us against the government from unreasonable searches and seizures.
        Jeff Richardson