Medic 'justly fired' for Facebook rant on slapping patient

The former helicopter paramedic posted on Facebook that she wanted to slap an uncooperative patient

By David Lee
Courthouse News Service

FORT WORTH, Texas — A former helicopter paramedic who posted on Facebook that she wanted to slap an uncooperative patient was properly fired, a Texas appeals court ruled.

In the initial post that drew concern, CareFlight paramedic Janis Roberts had complaint to a fellow CareFlight paramedic about an apparently unruly patient who needed restrains. Roberts had said that she wanted to slap the patient.

Sheila Calvert, who worked as a compliance officer for CareFlight, said that her sister had seen the post on Facebook and reported it to her.

When Calvert warned Roberts, via Facebook message, that similarly situated employees had lost their jobs or licenses over such posts, Roberts was indignant.

"Yeah, whatever," she had replied. "YOU weren't there. Whenever I have to have a firefighter ride in with me because of a patient's attitude, and I fear for MY safety, I truly believe a patient needs an attitude adjustment. Think about that the next time YOU correct someone!!"

The two exchanged some more messages, and Roberts then posted again on her own Facebook profile about needing restraints for the patient.

The paramedic co-worker had commented on this post: "Yeah, like a boot to the head."

After Calvert's sister notified CareFlight's CEO about the "slap" post, and the "boot to the head" comment, CareFlight fired Roberts. In addition to referencing the "slap" post, CareFlight said that hat Roberts had been "unprofessional and insubordinate" to Calvert.

Roberts then sued CareFlite for invasion of privacy and for unlawful termination. She claimed that the company actually fired her for reporting a co-worker who had started an IV on a patient without the proper certification for performing such a procedure. Claiming that this behavior was criminal, Roberts said she refused to participate in a cover-up.

A Tarrant County judge later granted CareFlite's motion for summary judgment, agreeing with CareFlite that "the subject of Roberts's Facebook posting was not within the zone of her seclusion, solitude, and private affairs; and that as a matter of law, CareFlite's acts were not highly offensive to a reasonable person."

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeals affirmed Friday, noting that Roberts did not produce evidence supporting her privacy claims in the 350-plus pages she had submitted.

"In our review of Roberts's brief, we did not find where Roberts directs this court to what summary judgment evidence she produced to raise a fact issue on these elements," Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot wrote for the court. "Instead, Roberts raises arguments that do not relate to the elements of her claim or the evidence to support those elements."

CareFlite is also off the hook because there is no allegation that it disclosed Roberts' personal information under a request for information by a member of the public.

Roberts had tried to seek relief under a case that considered whether the Texas Public Information Act required disclosure of the birth dates of state employees or whether the information was exempted from disclosure under a provision exempting information from an employee's personnel file, 'the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,'" Dauphinot wrote.

Since Roberts had appealed from the summary judgment as to her intrusion upon seclusion claim, but not her wrongful termination claim, the court refused to consider a purported National Labor Relations Board determination that protects employees from firing over "concerted workplace related discussions on Facebook."

The court also deemed it irrelevant that Roberts said CareFlite was "out to get" her and that "[t]he claim that the public saw [Roberts's] email post is strictly an 'in-house, put-up' affair by CareFlite management."

"The questions of whether CareFlite management was indeed 'out to get' Roberts and of whether the public saw the email exchange between Calvert and Roberts, [or] Roberts's wall posting ... are irrelevant to the question of whether Roberts produced sufficient summary judgment evidence on her claim," Dauphinot wrote. "The relevant inquiry is not whether Roberts produced evidence relating to the ability of the public to see Roberts's writings or whether CareFlite was 'out to get' Roberts. Rather, the inquiry is whether CareFlite intentionally intruded upon Robert's solitude, seclusion, or private affairs or concerns and, if it did so, whether such intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person."

Founded in 1979, CareFlite is a nonprofit air medical transport service that operates helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and ambulances in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Its board of directors includes representatives from five of the largest medical service providers in the region: Texas Health Resources, Methodist Health System, Baylor Health Care System, Parkland Health and Hospital System and the JPS Health Network.

Republished with permission from Courthouse News Service

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