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Court in Oklahoma denies summary judgment in employment case

A case before a federal court in Oklahoma dealing with a college professor's claims of employment discrimination and retaliation will go forward towards trial. The court recently denied the university's motion for summary judgment in the employment law case. The case reveals some reasons employers need to have solid social media policies in place for their employees.

The case is a result of the professor's application for tenure being denied by the university. A couple years ago, while the professor was the head of his department, some disparaging posts about him on a social media site were made by other professors in the department. The plaintiff in the case, who is of Native American origin, reported those posts to the university administration. As a result, the university issued reprimands to the employees involved, and shortly thereafter one of them resigned her position. The decision to deny tenure was made, in part, due to the votes of some of the previously reprimanded professors, including the husband of the one who resigned.

In the motion for summary judgment, the university argued that the passage of two years between the social media reprimands and the tenure vote rendered any causal connection between the incidents impossible. The court disagreed, reasoning that it was plausible, and even likely, that the tenure votes of the reprimanded professors were influenced by the fact that the plaintiff had reported the social media posts, even two years later. Thus, the case will proceed toward a trial on the merits of plaintiff professor's claims.

As illustrated by the above case, employers should think very carefully about the social media policies they have regarding employees, and strive to ensure that they are clear and that all workers are aware of the consequences of violating said policies. In the internet age, it is easier than ever before to document potential illegal employment discrimination, due to the explosion of use of e-mail and social media.

Source: natlawreview.com, "Oklahoma Federal Court Denies Summary Judgment to Employer on Professor's Allegations He Was Denied Tenure After Reporting Inappropriate Facebook Posts by Fellow Professors," Alexander Nestor, March 5, 2015

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