Facebook photo gets female employee fired; male employee merely reprimanded

Thumbnail image for facebutton.pngOver the weekend, I read this article about Laraine Cook, a girls basketball coach at a high school in Idaho, who lost her job, apparently after her school learned about a photo on her Facebook page that showed her boyfriend touching her chest.

What struck me as interesting is that Ms. Cook’s boyfriend is also her co-worker, varsity football coach Tom Harrison.

And what struck me as even more interesting is that, while Ms. Cook lost her job, Mr. Harrison was merely disciplined.

Were you thinking gender discrimination? Because the thought did cross my mind.

But, as employment lawyers, business owners, managers, and HR professionals, we’ve all been in situations in which one event results in discipline for two employees. And there are a variety of reasons why that discipline may be uneven. Here, Ms. Cook may have more prior infractions. The article discussing the incident also indicates that Mr. Harrison has won 10 state championships and was inducted into the Idaho High School Football Hall of Fame in 2000. So, the school may have been more inclined to cut him some slack. And that has nothing to do with gender.

However, let’s face it, in this particular instance, there is one reason — one word — that we’re hearing about an incident involving two teachers in Idaho: Facebook.

Question for you: Is uneven discipline relating to a Facebook-related event the exception to the rule? That is, if a similar Facebook incident occurred in your workplace, knowing that it may draw media attention, would you be more inclined to view the incident in a vacuum and discipline both employees equally?

Let me know in the comments below.

  • Marylou Varao Fabbo

    Even if the school had valid, non-discriminatory reasons for retaining the male coach, the difference in treatment for a somewhat identical infraction is likely to end up with the school paying a lot in defense costs. I wonder what would have happened if she had been touching his chest?

  • Lin

    Disipline both equally. OR just leave it alone. To fire one and not the other seems to be grounds for a discrimination law suit for the women.

  • michael caldwell

    Another example of Stupid Facebook Tricks. I’m not sure his prowess in Sports history will adequately teach the students about the need for personal decorum and institutional equality. Of course, if he is her FORMER boyfriend, the posting might have had a different motive which may have backfired on her.

  • sharemare

    I guess the underlying issue is what was the basis of her termination – engaging in conduct unbecoming, in which case they were both equally “guilty” or posting inappropriate photos on Facebook, in which case she owns it, not him.