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Teacher's aide says 'no access' to her Facebook

now legal battle with school

March 28, 2012|By Kelli Stopczynski (kstopczynski@wsbt.com) | WSBT TV Reporter

CASSOPOLIS, Mich. — Kimberly Hester never imagined a Facebook post intended to make a co-worker laugh would cause so much controversy and lead to a legal battle with the school district that employs her.

“It was very mild, no pornography,” she said of the picture she posted in April 2011.

The picture shows that co-worker’s pants around her ankles, and a pair of shoes.

“It wasn't at work, it was off work time,” Hester added.

At the time, Hester was a teacher's aide at Frank Squires Elementary in Cassopolis.  According to a letter from the Cassopolis schools superintendent to the Lewis Cass Intermediate superintendent, a parent who was friends with Hester on Facebook notified the school about the picture.

Hester said her aide job was at Cassopolis public schools, but she was technically employed by Lewis-Cass Intermediate.

A few days later, Lewis Cass ISD superintendent Robert Colby called her into his office.

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“He asked me three times if he could view my Facebook and I repeatedly said I was not OK with that,” Hester told WSBT.

In a letter to Hester from the Lewis Cass ISD Special Education Director, he wrote “…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 keeps that letter in her stack of documents related to the case.  She provided the letter to WSBT.

Hester said Colby put her on paid administrative leave and eventually suspended her.

“I have the right to privacy,” she told WSBT.

But University of Notre Dame labor law professor Barbara Frick said the school didn’t break any laws by asking for Hester’s Facebook information.

Right now there are no state or federal laws protecting social media privacy in the workplace, Frick said. 

One reason she gave – websites such as Facebook are becoming so mainstream so quickly.

Meanwhile, Hester chose to take unpaid leave and collect workman's compensation while she fights a legal battle with the school district.  But she's not backing down.

“I stand by it,” Hester said.  “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 believes the school district has punished her for not cooperating and refusing to give up her facebook information.  She said she's been given several "directives" over the past year – including taking 47 online courses on topics such as fire extinguisher and hard hat safety.  When she completed a course, she said she was told to read the newspaper until the end of her work day 

Colby had not returned WSBT’s calls regarding the issue. Cassopolis Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Witherspoon said Hester is not an employee in his school district and referred our questions to Colby.

Both sides are scheduled to go to arbitration in May.

Hester said Michigan State Representative Matt Lori (R–Constantine) contacted her last Thursday morning. She added that he expressed interest in including her story in House Bill 5523. If passed, the legislation would make it illegal for employers to ask employees for social media login information.

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